Sweet Bird of Youth (Merge)

The Rock*A*Teens 

Sweet Bird of Youth (Merge)

In early incarnations, the Rock*A*Teens were the post-Jody Grind torch-song home of Kelly Hogan. Since she departed, the R*A*Ts have absorbed slick mid-'60s pop and beaten it brutally with layers of distortion and reverb, stretching and blurring various keyboards beyond recognition and leaving the bubbly hooks stricken and scarred. The end result is like a machine made of parts from a completely different machine -- say, a dishwasher built from a Chrysler -- which shouldn't work, but it does.

"Car and Driver," part Zen Koan (I am the car and/I am the driver) and part personal confession, is what the Left Banke might sound like if the lead singer had strep and the sound man was drunk. "If I Wanted to Be Famous (I'da Shot Someone)," with its Archies-like backing vocals, might have appeared as a cereal box single thirty years ago if the title sentiment hadn't been so appalling.

Chris Lopez's lyrics hold their own in the buzz. On "Please Don't Go Downtown Tonight," Lopez reminds a drifting lover, When we met/we never slept/there wasn't time, and his ache, almost campy in other songs, cuts straight to the quick. After the first dozen songs, the deconstruction begins to repeat itself, but the Rock*A*Teens' gizmo remains surprisingly weird and wonderful.

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