Musings on music delivered when I dig myself out.

The Click Five -- Greetings From Imrie House
Lava/Atlantic; 2005

Pardon my paranoia, but something about The Click Five doesn't sit well with me. Perhaps it's their hospital-clean sound, their boyish good looks, or that a handful of their songs were written by established musicians. Something doesn't add up. It's almost as if record label execs took the public's thirst for anything "indie" and assembled their very own underground band -- a boy band reprise. The band's shiny debut album, Greetings From Imrie House, does little to disprove the accusation. The Click Five is exemplary of why the underground cringes every time major labels catch on to a trend.

But that alone is not reason enough to shun The Click Five from the cool kid circle. Admittedly, whoever actually plays the music on Greetings... (something tells me session musicians saw studio time) knows how to whip up pop hooks and fling them at our ears. Five part vocal harmonies, arena-ready riffs and expensive-sounding production are the group's M.O. -- like a Power Wheels version of The Cars. It's a sickly sweet concoction, but the finished product is initially hard to resist. And really, what's wrong with a little confectionary fun from time to time?

For one, The Click Five's music is utterly soulless. With the exception of one track, Greetings... is scrubbed clean of any emotion other than sheer desire. Without the human connection that draws us in to music, the band's work could be recast as soda jingles without anyone being the wiser. And with girls, girls, girls weighing so heavily on the band's mind, it might be valid to ask the boys if they ever forget to eat or shower. Further detracting from the band's chance at scene stardom is their forgettable nature. Like cotton candy The Click Five's songs melt in your mouth, leaving listeners with only a sugar rush and not a full stomach. Only "Just the Girl," the album's lead single makes any sort of lasting impression. The sad part? The band didn't even pen the tune.

In fact, the band received quite a bit of help in the songwriting department from seasoned veterans. The aforementioned single and "I'll Take My Chances" were the creations of Fountains of Wayne member Adam Schlesinger; "Angel to You (Devil to Me)" was "co-written" by Kiss guitarist Paul Stanley; and the band's guitar sound was shaped by The Cars member Elliot Easton (which nicely explains the idolizing riffs). How does a band get this much help and still come away with such an unsatisfying album?

It all comes back to the band's (speculated) origins. Instead of coming into their own naturally, The Click Five were thrown into a studio with a handful of pre-written material and every production trick known to major labels. Whether or not we like to think about it, the record industry is probably more interested in making a buck than putting out substantial, satisfying content. Right now the kids are all abuzz about Death Cab and Bloc Party; and if Big Music has to create its own version of indie music in order to sell albums, they will. Greetings From Imrie House is a likeable cheap thrill -- a skeleton of quality pop music without the guts and heart to back it up. Maybe the band doesn't care about any of this, but their taste for the limelight comes at their listeners' expense.

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club -- Howl
RCA; 2005

It only takes the Black Rebel Motorcycle club 52 minutes to stomp, strum, and coo away any memory listeners have of their signature sound. While dumping all their Velvet Underground and Jesus & the Mary Chain albums at the local record shop, the trio must have stumbled into a fine collection of early country and folk music. Like ratty sponges the BRMC absorbed, squeezing out some slightly dirty and highly enjoyable country pop. Peter Hayes and Robert Levon Been lay down harmonies as sweet as pie over empowered strumming that could have been done on a porch in Alabama. The nervy tension the BRMC were known for has been calmed down and channeled into somewhat tender ballads about Jesus and the hard knock life. This turn for the yee-haw is a bit mystifying but hardly a mistake; Howl is exactly the cry the BRMC needed to make.

Young Jeezy -- Let's Get It: Thug Motivation 101
Def Jam; 2005

Street cred be damned -- Atlanta-based rapper Young Jeezy's story isn't wildly different from most other popular rappers (Jay-Z, 50 Cent, T.I., I see you!). From a young age, Jeezy made a career of selling "incalculable" amounts of drugs; that is, until his rap career finally became more lucrative. His lyrics sway precariously between playing eyewitness to the streets and thug-life booster. What separates Jeezy from the rest of the former-dealer crowd is witty charisma to smooth over the roughest edges of the grind and keep listeners marveling at unusually clever boasts. On Let's Get It: Thug Motivation 101, the one-track mind that pulled him off the streets fixates on what he knows best: the trapping business.

To get everyone on the same page, trapping is the practice of finding addicts and making them your lifetime customers. It's a much less "attractive" side to drugs, one the rap canon has spent significantly less time boasting about. There's no doubt about it, Young Jeezy is a hardcore, uncompromising rapper who spits topics that could make the average hip-hop head squirm. At the same time, these grimy rhymes aren't particularly alienating, even though they would be coming from most other rappers.

What allows Thug Motivation 101 to reach a broader audience is Jeezy's ability to turn a phrase. Money is, of course, a popular bragging point, like on the triumphant "Standing Ovation" ("Got it by the truckload, like the bread people / I got a sixth sense, I stack dead people") and on "Thug Motivation 101" ("I'm Donald Trump in a white tee and white ones / The conversation is money nigga, you want some?"). And since the entire album revolves around drugs, listeners get to hear Jeezy grandstand about his operation ("Kitchen fumed up, niggas jammin' 2Pac / Get my Benihana on, workin' two pots") and talk about hardships ("It's kinda hard bein' drug free / When Georgia power won't give a nigga lights free"). Snowman, as he's affectionately called, has enough choice quotes to fill up an entire column, many too irreverent to be printed.

Young Jeezy's rap style is much more casual than one might expect from an intense crack dealer. His slow, syrupy flow hits the rhymes when it feels like it, often giving tunes the illusion of being at a lower tempo. A leisurely, but not lazy, style is much appreciated for this type of rap, giving listeners a chance to chill out and catch Jeezy's wit. Often at the end of each line is one of his trademarked outbursts -- not dissimilar to those Lil' Jon is known for: "Ayyyy" and a drawn out "Thaaaat's riiiiight." These add a somewhat comical feel to the otherwise ultra-bleak tracks, which can be amusing or irritating, depending on your disposition.

Topping off the Jeezy platter is a delicious stack of beats, ranging from Cash Money hugeness (the Mannie Fresh-produced "And Then What") to metallicrunk thumpers ("Bottom of the Map," produced by the up-and-coming Shawty Redd) to the electro-tinged eeriness of "Let's Get It/Hands In the Air" (brought to you by the unknown Midnight Black). The album's first single, "Go Crazy," nabs The Impressions' "Man Oh Man" and makes it over into a party-ready anthem and a definite album standout. The album's diversity keeps it fairly fresh in spite of its length, even if it tends to drag a little towards the end.

Young Jeezy is an anti-hero, a guy whose appeal is both his gritty nature and natural charm that leaks through into his demeanor and lyrics. In a culture afraid of drugs and the requisite lifestyle, spending an entire album dwelling on his pharmaceutical past is a risky decision to make. Sure, it would be every trapper's favorite record, but would it give Jeezy the recognition he deserves? Yet Jeezy pulls it off with ease, crafting mind-boggling metaphors and uttering them in an unruffled fashion over top-notch beats. Thug Motivation 101 is Jeezy's latest trap, and this time he's caught a solid audience.

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