Whether by iconoclastic design or blessed ignorance, the music of younger, less professional groups is often more vital and distinctive than that made by industry veterans. Not all new bands possess a unique vision, of course. Some have been refining their sound for so many years that the only difference between them and their better-known cohorts is the size of their endorsement contracts, while others pursue the commercial mainstream so doggedly that their records can pass for the work of old-timers.
Both characterizations fit the Hooters, the Philadelphia club-scene perennials whose 1985 major-label debut, "Nervous Night," produced several hits. The band's new album comes as several other bands that hit the charts with their debuts, including Icicle Works and Go West, are also releasing follow-up albums, while the overlooked the Call issues its fifth.
The Hooters: 'One Way Home' Of the current crop of sophomore efforts, the Hooters' "One Way Home" (Columbia OC 40659) is the most appealing. That's not to say it contains any surprises: If anything, it's even more formulaic than the band's debut. Still, the record's uplifting melodies and epic arrangements are inarguably rousing. The Hooters have crafted a trans-Delaware variant of Springsteen's operatic pomp-rock.
"One Way Home" also recalls the agrarian romanticism of Celtic-rock bands like Big Country. The Hooters posed for the inner-sleeve photo wearing Amish-like clothing in a field of golden grain (they look like they could be the house band from the movie "Witness"), and they use traditional acoustic instruments to set off predictable hard-rock rhythms and electric guitar excursions. The reggae-ish beat of the first album surfaces again here, notably on the title song, but this record's trademark is the jiglike counterpoint that anchors tracks like "Karla With a K."
The music's heroic sweep has a way of overpowering lyrical nuance. The sound of a song like "Satellite" is so affirmative that it comes as a surprise to peruse the lyric sheet and discover that it's a gibe at televangelists. Most of the lyrics are portentous enough to match their settings, though, invoking Lincoln, John Kennedy's grave and -- repeatedly -- the Civil War. "Graveyard Waltz" and "Fighting on the Same Side," which compares an unraveling love affair to the War Between the States, have an adolescent earnestness equal to the music's grandiosity. Of course, the Hooters can only benefit from melodies expansive enough to obscure metaphors like "She was the fire and I was the engine ... She knew I would follow till I ran out of gas."
Icicle Works: 'If You Want to Defeat Your Enemy Sing His Song' The Icicle Works' only previous American album, released in 1984, wasn't especially memorable, but it did contain "Whisper to a Scream (Birds Fly)," a full-bodied acid-rock romp that is the only artifact from Britain's psychedelic revival to make a dent in the U.S. singles charts. The trio has had several British hits in the interim, including "Evangeline," "Up Here in the North of England" and "Understanding Jane," all included on its new album, "If You Want to Defeat Your Enemy Sing His Song" (Beggar's Banquet 6447-1-H). Its second American release was held back, however, until its English label finally signed a stateside distribution contract this year.
Objectively, the new album is better than its predecessor -- the songwriting more consistent, Ian Broudie's production lucid and crisp -- but it's curiously flat. The mystery and excitement of "Whisper to a Scream" are gone, replaced by a plodding politeness. Singer/guitarist Robert Ian McNabb's deep, theatrical voice dominates the mix, and the various instrumental flourishes are never given an opportunity to rival it. The effect is fatally tidy.
As a recent 9:30 club date showed, the Icicle Works does have a sense of fun and a capacity for spontaneity. Both are lacking here, though -- even strong melodies like "Hope Springs Eternal" never break free. Like Echo and the Bunnymen's Ian McCullough, another psychedelicist from up there in the north of England, McNabb seems to have become entirely too impressed by the sound of his own voice. Next time, the Works should forget all that and just crank up the guitars.
Go West: 'Dancing on the Couch' Such advice would be wasted on Go West, which makes glossy pop records of the sort that actually pass for hip in certain jaded British circles. On this side of the pond the duo is merely considered commercial, as their 1985 debut, with hits like "We Close Our Eyes," certainly was. The new "Dancing on the Couch" (Chrysalis BFV 41550) shouldn't disappoint Chrysalis' accountants either. The catchy but tame pop-funk of songs like "I Want to Hear It From You" will attract fans of the first record.
This is prefab music without much staying power, though -- it doesn't require any significant commitment from either singer/songwriters Peter Cox and Richard Drummie or its audience. "Dancing on the Couch" is about as easy to listen to as it is not to listen to, which suggests that whether it's a commercial success or failure won't matter at all to the listener in the long run.
The Call: 'Into the Woods' The odd group out here is the Call, a mainstream rock band that somehow has been confused with a cult group for most of this decade. This L.A. quartet's new "Into the Woods" (Elektra 9 60739-1) features melodramatic hard rock that might well appeal to fans of the Hooters (or U2, for that matter). The band's inability to crack the singles charts, however, keeps it relatively unknown.
"Into the Woods" won't surprise those who have heard the Call before. The band has gradually moved away from the punky edge and political lyrics of its earlier work, but its rootsy no-nonsense attack hasn't changed much over the years. Songs like "I Don't Wanna" are melodically well-endowed, but probably not slick enough for Top 40 radio -- this album is unlikely to be the band's breakthrough. Those weary of current radio-pop's glibness, though, could do worse than to wander from the Hooters' golden fields to the Call's darker woods