Thursday, March 5, 2009

The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart -- The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart

The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart -- The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart (Slumberland)

For whatever reason, my initial reaction to this young band’s homage to British late-‘80s indie pop was pretty sour. I couldn’t deny that the music was enticing and, at times, quite catchy. Yet the band seemed to be a bit lacking in the personality department, with wan vocals that barely stood out amongst the prominent guitars.

Then I looked at the lyric sheet. And once I grasped what they were singing, my feelings changed. As carefree and innocent as these songs sound on the surface, there is little that is pure about this crew. Moreover, I have to admit that The Pains mastered this classic sound.

Perhaps the less cynical among you will connect sooner than I did. The track that turned the trick for me was “This Love Is Fucking Right!”. This song makes Prince’s “Sister” seem tame. This is a tale of sibling lust, with the brother essentially giving a pep talk to his sister/lover. The song sails in on a bed of strumming guitars with a subtly insistent rhythm section propelling the track. Lead singer Kip Berman, with backing from keyboardist Peggy Wang, explains how the rough sex they had is better than what she gets from her husband. If that isn’t enough, he concludes: “Can you go home/look your best friend in the eye?/No you can’t go home/after where you slept last night.” Now I don’t condone what this song is about, but the mix of sweet poppy rock and disgusting salacious lyrics is pretty cool.

Sex and death permeate the lyrics, though rarely are they as distinctive as on “Fucking Right!” I do like the sex in the library plot of “Young Adult Friction”. Riding a beat and bed of guitars that could have fueled a Primitives song, Kip sings in a fey voice: “I never thought I would come of age/let alone on a moldy page/you put your back to the spines/and you said it was fine.” You think it would be tough to have a quickie in a place where it’s so quiet.

Meanwhile, the band moves into “Pink Turns Into Blue” territory on “A Teenager in Love”. I only mean that in terms of subject matter. The music is twinky Motown meets ‘80s Brit indie pop. The jauntiness supports a song about a gal who OD’d: “A teenager in love with Christ and heroin.”

Though I like the sour words and sweet music, over the course of an album it can only take things so far. Every song here is very attractive and made for blasting out in the summer (and since I’m from Chicago, I’m hoping we have a sunny warm day by August in which to do so). But the music sounds great at the moment, but it doesn’t always resonate.

Only on “The Tenure Itch” does the music really stick. The snappy drums and the keyboard backing, which suggests strings and horns (in the vein of China Crisis) give this a bit more lasting power. And when the band turns up the fuzz and rocks out on “Hey Paul”, I wish they’d do that more frequently.

The great news is that the Pains have released a fun debut album and have room to grow. So this isn’t Sliced Bread, 21st Century Version, but if you can get over that, you can accept this for the pop platter it is and hope for even better things next time.

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