Some rock bands don't attract radio airplay so much as provoke it. Marcy Playground pulled off that trick last year with "Sex and Candy," a titillating hit single that contained the sure-fire refrain, "I smell sex and candy."
"Shapeshifter" (Capitol), the band's new album, aims to win over listeners the hard way, relying more on craft than tease. The trio succeeds more often than not, particularly when singer-songwriter John Wozniak's humor offsets his introspective musings.
The record opens with the engagingly goofy single "It's Saturday," in which a school kid's lament ("I have some kind of disease and there are no remedies") is punctuated by brawny guitar tones and yodeled harmonies. Wozniak has a penchant for this kind of loony pop tune. A similarly playful spirit is evident on the skewed funk track "Pigeon Farm."
But composing brooding or atmospheric ballads is also one of Wozniak's favorite pastimes. He delivers "America," "All the Lights Went Out" and "Our Generation" in a tenor voice somewhat reminiscent of Neil Young's, and some of his mystical lyrics ("Listen to the whistle of the planets whirling through space, singing la la la la la to the human race") underscore his ties to the veteran singer-songwriter. While these songs may not be particularly memorable, they certainly are a lot more entertaining than the album's ponderous centerpiece, "Never."
This is actually the first album that Wozniak and his band mates--bassist Dylan Keefe and drummer Dan Reiser--have recorded without the help of numerous collaborators. Most of the songs have been road-tested for a couple of years, and the best of them prove that the band has a lot more going for it than just "Sex and Candy."
(To hear a free Sound Bite from this album, call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 and press 8171.)
Blinker the Star
Blinker the Star, a Toronto-based trio led by singer-songwriter Jordon Zadorozny, opts for a sumptuous pop-rock sound on "August Everywhere" (DreamWorks), its third and most ambitious album. There's little here to remind us of Zadorozny's ties to Courtney Love--he popped up as one of her collaborators on her last album--and plenty to remind us of his admiration for the kind of imaginatively orchestrated pop-rock associated with one of his favorite bands, England's XTC.
The string arrangements fashioned by David Campbell (better known these days as Beck's dad) contribute to the album's opulent sound. But then so do the billowing harmonies, infectious choruses and layered guitar and keyboard textures found on "Below the Sliding Doors," "Pretty Pictures," "Your Big Night, Sandy!" and other tracks. Fortunately, the lush production doesn't obscure Zadorozny's talent for composing songs that range from the offbeat to the surreal.
(To hear a free Sound Bite from this album, call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 and press 8172.)
Marcy Playground and Blinker the Star perform at the 9:30 club on Friday.
CAPTION: Marcy Playground is a band with a lot more going for it than just "Sex and Candy."