CD Review of City Beach by Jill Cunniff

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City Beach
starstarstarhalf starno star Label: The Militia Group
Released: 2007
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They were never the most successful of the ‘90s alterna-girl groups – the band’s timeline, included in this album’s press kit, lists a Gap commercial as a career highlight – but Luscious Jackson was better than you probably remember. Actually, you may not remember Luscious Jackson’s music at all; aside from a single Top 40 hit, “Naked Eye,” the band was arguably better known for being signed to the Beastie Boys’ boutique label, Grand Royal, than for any of the music they released. This lack of marketplace saturation, in the end, could wind up working in the group’s favor – 2007 will bring a Luscious Jackson compilation, potentially a Luscious Jackson children’s album, and City Beach, the debut solo offering from LJ principal Jill Cunniff. Seven years isn’t long to wait for a reunion, but for a band that never overstayed its welcome – or reached its full potential – it might be just right.

City Beach is hitting stores the same day as Luscious Jackson’s Greatest Hits. This might be a typically crass example of labels hedging their bets, but it works – Cunniff’s solo debut works as a perfectly logical extension of the band’s sound. Oh, and it’s also a damn fine pop record.

Okay, so it’s far from perfect – even the terrific leadoff track, “Lazy Girls,” has a distractingly cutesy line about eating orange popsicles – but large chunks of City Beach are so terrifically catchy, so tightly crafted, you’ll be unable to keep from overlooking the album’s shortcomings. “Lazy Girls,” in particular, is damn near flawless, a wonderfully sunny song that will bring 2:49 of early summer to listeners between hailstorms and snow drifts. The rest of the album isn’t as spectacular – and at just under 43 minutes, it feels peculiarly long – but, even in an age of big-budget-sounding home-studio albums, City Beach is, for lack of a better word, too good to be released on an independent label. It’s a feel-good record, in the very best sense, and it should find the largest possible audience.

Not that Cunniff’s label isn’t doing its part – The Militia Group offered, for $18, a pre-order combo that included a t-shirt and a pair of non-album B-sides – and the Luscious Jackson tie-in, along with a donation of part of City Beach’s proceeds to the Surfrider Foundation, can do nothing but help her profile. Any extra attention is deserved. The purposely lo-fi, sample-heavy aesthetic that Luscious Jackson helped to popularize has grown stale, but City Beach proves this isn’t a function of time; the sound just needs the right set of songs, and here, Cunniff delivers.

~Jeff Giles