CD Review of Life on Mars by Life on Mars

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Life on Mars
starno starno starno starno star Label: Marso
Released: 2003
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It’s “Make Your Own Record” night at the Linda Marso Home for the Technically Skilled but Creatively Insane, and Life on Mars is the result.

That sounds harsh, but really, there are few other explanations. Unless perhaps there really is life on Mars, and it’s just now receiving our FM radio transmissions from the spring of 1987; this album, you see, is – from the cover on down – the product of crazy (or alien) minds who believe the work of mid-‘80s Heart to be the greatest music ever made.

No, seriously. It’s like an elevator full of crazy people got to talking about music, realized that Bad Animals was their favorite album, and decided to form a band. There’s some real musical skill on display here – Tracey Blue’s vocals, in particular, scale some truly impressive (if transparently Ann Wilsonian) heights – but it’s being put to awfully strange use.

There seems to be something of a small movement afoot to bring the slick, utterly irony-free music of that era back to our precious airwaves – witness the recent, execrable Chicago XXX – so perhaps there’s actually an audience for this album. Like trickle-down economics, though, this concept runs so squarely counter to reality that it’s difficult to believe.

It isn’t like Heart and Bad Animals were terrible albums; neither, on certain levels, is Life on Mars. Those Heart records were canny enough, in their way, and – approached from a muso-archaeological perspective – can even be fascinating. They represent the apogee of Ron Nevison’s “there’s no song here, so I’m going to hairspray some synths and false endings onto the crap Diane Warren wrote” production technique.

The thing is, though, those albums were also disowned long ago – by the band itself – as the misguided result of overly commercial thinking. Why Marso and Blue have elected to ignore the warnings of the Wilson sisters and strap on the corsets and hair extensions is literally anyone’s guess.

The whole thing would be sort of a wash if the songs were as cannily vapid as the stuff they’re imitating, but they’ve got all of the bombast and none of the hooks. It all adds up to a fairly punishing listening experience, not to mention a deeply convincing argument against affordable recording technology.

~Jeff Giles