Sunday, March 8, 2009

The Handcuffs -- Electroluv

The Handcuffs -- Electroluv (OOFL)

The second Handcuffs album finds Chloe F. Orwell and Brad Elvis (who goes full name on the credits – Brad Elvis Steakley) continuing to expand their musical palette. Meanwhile, Brad Elvis shows yet again that he’s a wiseacre emeritus, as his lyrics are clever and witty (though sometimes, they fall a bit short. That’s the risk you take when you go clever). Moreover, Elvis, who is one of the flashiest drummers around, does not show off, doing what is necessary to make the song better.

Of course, Orwell can make most songs better. I am not the only writer who makes the inevitable Deborah Harry comparison. This is because Chloe has a great voice and brings an actor’s touch to the songs, providing the right attitude or feel to each tune.

A great example of this can be found on the third and fourth cuts on the disc. “I Just Wanna’ Be Free, Man” is a glam rock stomp (with an appropo “Jean Genie” reference) that allows Orwell to strut her sassy stuff. This is a particularly well produced track, as it crackles with electricity of a live show.

The next song shows off a much softer side. “Turn It Up” is a piano based mid-tempo number, and Orwell is as tender as can be. This is a dramatic song which builds to a great finale. Before getting there, Orwell plays a nice vibraphone solo (!), which is a sweet respite before the urgent pleading at the end. “Wonderful Life” isn’t as stirring, but it’s also a good change of pace from the more upbeat offerings surrounding it.

That includes the silly “Baby Boombox”, which is grounded in Brad Elvis’s rumbling drum beat with deft bass accompaniment by Casey McDonough. And Orwell’s flute adds an odd touch to this percussive track. The song is about a guy who’s truly into music, from his thousands of vinyl records, his reel to reel tape collection and the boom box with a Clash sticker on it. Super fun.

Of course, that could apply to most of the tracks on this disc, from the adrenalized power pop of “Gotta’ Problem With Me” (which sounds like a Cheap Trick-y remnant from Brad and Chloe’s Big Hello days) to the galloping piano pop of the driving “Half a Mind”.

The only songs that don’t do it for me are “Fake Friends”, which, compared to “Turn It Up”, is overly dramatic. It’s kind of in the vein of Pat Benatar’s “Fire and Ice”, but it’s a tad too much for me. Then “God is Sure One Funny Girl” takes a T. Rex riff and applies it to a lyrical concept that just doesn’t work. The song just doesn’t flow.

I find that on every album from Brad and Chloe there’s a track or two that doesn’t click. I think it’s because they aren’t just rewriting the same songs over and over. Yes, there is a style and sensibility at work that holds all of it together, but they are really about new ideas, whether it’s a new lyrical conceit or some new riff or arrangement that will expand their sound. In other words, they don’t believe in filler. But the price of having ideas, is that not every one will work.

When I listen to The Handcuffs, I’m well aware that a lot of their favorite artists are mine too. Unlike some bands that settle for imitation, Elvis and Orwell know that the reason their influences sounded so good was because they kept trying new things. So they do the same. The result is yet another swell album.

No comments: