Villains (Ryko/Shamtown)

The Saw Doctors 

Villains (Ryko/Shamtown)

Like the fictional Commitments, County Galway's Saw Doctors have lived the sort of feel-good, populist tale we Yanks are such suckers for. After rising from obscurity on a 1988 Waterboys tour, the backwater pub rockers scored the biggest-selling single in Irish history with "I Useta Lover," a controversial lust-at-mass rave-up. And while its previous domestic releases haven't caught fire in the States, Villains? just might. Like quaint Irish comedy films, it's a tad too dully populist and a touch too positive -- a mixture that still thrives on our pop and country charts in the face of angrier trends.

Most of the band's previous work balanced classic pop values with Celtic traditionalism, yielding hearty, forthright folk-rock. Villains?, at worst, trades that plain beauty for bombast. "This Is Me," for example, is a bubbly anthem that could fit as readily in a deodorant commercial as Toby Keith's "How Do You Like Me Now?" At best, the album is fun, as on the bobbing ditty "Chips," which sports an NRBQ-like playfulness in its fast-food metaphor for cheap love. But elsewhere, there's little in the way of character, either charming or cloying.

Co-frontmen Davy Carlton and Leo Moran used to sing about parades, fairies, emigrations and passions repressed and unrequited. On much of Villains?, that color congeals into the pastel tones of contented sentimentality (Like the sunshine in the mornin', runnin' wild and free, the crazy days of summertime are made for you and me). But even when the Saws' words are as sharp as its members' lilting brogues -- as on the Dylanesque panorama of the title track or the evocative adult insecurity of "Still Afraid of the Dark" -- they're dwarfed by slippery, smothering overproduction. Villains? If only. These Saw Doctors sound so smooth and agreeable, they make the bland white-soul soundtrack to The Commitments seem gritty.

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