Friday, May 25, 2012

The Lambrettas - Beat Boys in the Jet Age

Beat Boys in the Jet Age (1980) ***1/2

Trawling through the byways of the highways of rock'n'roll (B-roads as opposed to A-roads in British English), here is yet another completely forgotten minor gem.  Justly or unjustly unremembered?  Justly because it's a lightweight, merely entertaining album that couldn't remotely be described as essential to even hardcore fans of the genre (power-pop or Brit-pop, take your druthers).  Unjustly because - hey, there's nothing "mere" about crafting a consistently listenable and entertaining pop-rock album.  You try doing it - tens of thousands of bands have tried and failed miserably.

As you might guess from the band name (the scooters, you see) and the album title (it's a Paul McCartney quote), this smells like some sort of Mod Revival outfit, and guess what - on the button 'tis.  For an exceedingly brief spell (which would be an eternity by U.K. trend-of-the-month standards these days), a number of beat groups sprung up to revive mid-'60s mod pop/rock in 1979, inspired by (and not necessarily in this order):

1.  The Jam
2.  Quadrophenia (the film released that same year)
3.  A tuneful reaction against the excesses of punk

Nearly every single one of those Class of '79 Mod bands is so well-buried that even your average rock trivialist might not be aware of even the movement's mayfly existence, and in many cases that's no crime (ever heard the Secret Affair?  Anyone?  Well - don't).  This album is one of the very small handful of bright spots in that hyper-faddish precursor to '60s derivative '90s Brit-Pop.  The Lambrettas had the tunes, and in the end, that's what counts, innit?  Actually, this is as tunefully consistent as There Are But Four Small Faces, so don't let knee-jerks against '80s bands copping the '60s Beat Boom prejudice you.  The sound's more than a bit too thin - hey, this is the post-punk era, there's no excuse to not beef up those guitars and drums; I mean, the Hollies had more sonic depth and bite.  Antiquated production values and guitar tones aside, the Lambrettas managed to score two substantial hits in their homeland:  an unexceptional cover of "Poison Ivy," that adds too little new to be any other than a redundant superfluity of a song whose original I never cared for in the first place; and the much superior "Da-a-ance," which lives up to its title - hyper-lightweight fodder for the all-ages disco catering to the high school mating crowd, catchy as rubella and yes, da-a-anceable.  The more lyrically substantial "Another Day, Another Girl," was a smaller follow-up hit, concerning the socially relevant topic of the Page 3 girls baring their tits in the British dailies.  Two more A-level tunes round out the 12-track album's highlights:  "London Calling," which in no way possesses a fraction of power of the Clash song of the same title (released a mere year earlier - cheeky 'Brettas!) but is substantially more tuneful (well, that Clash song was based on one chord); and "Living For Today," which creatively recycles the ubiquitous "I Feel Fine," riff for the hook (not that I'm complaining - the song is surgingly wonderful and catchily anthemic; who cares about a mild Beatles cop?).  As this was the era of Two-Tone, the Lambrettas toss in a smidgen of a ska influence on several tracks, which are not my favorite tracks (sorry, not a fan of ska, even the Specials variety).  Some ska-ish bounce in even many of straighter guitar-poppers, as well.  Which certifies this as an identifiably 1980 album as opposed to 1966 vintage - not many '60s Brit-Invasion bands betraying a trendy ska influence (aside from "Ob La Da Obla Dee Dee Dee Doo Doo Doo", the legendary lost McCartney/Sting collaboration).

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