You can see why producer Gil Norton was drawn to Morningwood, as the spirit of
the Pixies is alive and well in them. They’re not a copycat, mind you, but they,
like the Pixies, write songs that are quirky and playful, and both bands sport
singers (in this case, nubile Chantal Claret) who can go from a whisper to a
scream at a moment’s notice. Sonically, they’re more like Elastica, and thank
heaven for that, since we could use a little levity on the modern rock scene
right about now.
If only they were as good as Elastica. Morningwood, the New York
quartet’s eponymous debut, has its share of fun moments, but can’t quite put it
all together over the course of an entire album. The moments where they click,
though, are unforgettable, and if nothing else, they’ve made one of the best
videos of the decade.
What video, you ask? The one for “Nth Degree,” their first single (click
here to see the video, which salutes famous, and infamous, album covers). A
super-catchy, borderline novelty disco pop rocker (they sing-spell the band’s
name about a dozen times), “Nth Degree” is the album’s clear standout moment,
but it’s also no indication whatsoever of what Morningwood are all about. The
rest of the album is revved up rawk ‘n roll in the same vein as fellow New
Yorkers the Strokes and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, though it’s much lighter in tone.
“Babysitter” has Claret playing the role of every young boy’s fantasy, the
babysitter seductress (“Can I crawl in bed with you? I’ll let you stay up
real late”), and “New York Girls” is a total Pixies tribute with a clever
break where Claret asks, “Come on, girls, tell us where you’re really from!” The
responses are all over the world, natch.
If there is one other song besides “Nth Degree” that has the chance to launch
Morningwood into the pop culture consciousness, it’s “Take Off Your Clothes.”
With a bass line not far removed from “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and a chorus
straight off a Garbage album, the lyric is somewhat contradictory (Claret veers
from “I wanna take off your clothes” to “I’d like it if we waited”
in the space of about five seconds), but the song’s sleazy vibe serves the title
well. And then there’s “Easy,” which sounds like AC/DC playing at Motörhead
speed while Claret positively shreds her vocal chords throughout. It may
alienate the hipster elite, but it rocks, bro.
Pretty diverse batch of tunes, yes? Well, that’s also part of the problem. The
band would probably tell you that they’re intrigued by a wide variety of styles,
but what they could really use is some focus. It’s great that they love so many
different types of music, but listening to them play it all is daunting. They
also push their luck with “Everybody Rules,” the second song with a sing-spell
chorus which, as you all know, is one sing-spell song too many for any album.
Still, Morningwood has its good points. For a scene that was about to
collapse under the weight of its own self-satisfaction, it’s good to see bands
having fun again, and there is certainly fun to be had here. Hopefully, next
time around, they’ll dial back the jukebox-from-hell aspect of their music and
get down to business. Well, fun business, anyway.