BY FRED MILLS
The debate continues to rage over which decade was the worst, musically speaking. Was it the ‘60s, considering how all that noodly, “cosmic” psychedelia that implored you to tune in, turn on, and drop, uh, dead? Was it the ‘70s, with the prevailing have-a-nice-day pabulum that not even Johnny Rotten, Joe Strummer or Joey Ramone could knock out of the charts? Was it the ‘80s, wherein we mindlessly did the “Belinda Carlisle dance” while aerodynamically coiffed British fops pumped out wheezing synth cheese? Was it the ‘90s, that godforsaken decade wherein the least palatable players of the college rock era surfed the grunge wave to wash up on the shores of ‘mersh alterna-rock?
Soft News mainman Erik Laroi says “feh!” to all that and declares, in his own words, that he’s here to indie-ize The Great American Songbook as seen through the lens of several decades’ worth of schlock. As you might imagine, there’s good news and bad news.
The bad news? On these soft-rock interpretations of sundry pop icons one encounters Laroi & Co.’s syrupy looks at post-The-Mod Rod Stewart, post-Commodores Lionel Richie, Rod Stewart and—not once, but twice—Journey. Admittedly, Richie’s “Hello” is rendered here with loving care, all strings ‘n’ sentiment; with a hint of suspension of disbelief, you might find yourself surrendering to its charms. The less said about the Rodster, the better, however; that track simply sent me bolting into the arms of my battered copy of Gasoline Alley. Meanwhile, Journey’s “Separate Ways” and “Who’s Crying Now?” are destined to become the ultimate party-starters or –stoppers depending on your cultural frame of reference: their sleek, neo-baroque stylings are perfectly suited to a Glee inspired cocktail party for Millennials but probably ain’t the thing for you to cue up if your peer group spent any time back in the day hanging out at the Masque, the Mabuhay Gardens or CBGB.
The good news? One word: “Holocaust.” Devastating in its own right, the Alex Chilton/Big Star Third gem rarely fails to break hearts and shatter egos no matter the incarnation, and Laroi here proves he truly understands the tune’s core aesthetic. It’s the ultimate soft rock tune, to put it bluntly, and while Chilton acolytes may blanch at that notion, doing an A-B comparison with the original and this new version suggests that inconvenient truth.
Throw in a not-too-shabby Billy Idol cover (“Dancing With Myself,” shy and nerdy) and a couple of Pet Shop Boys surprises (simply nerdy; “It’s A Sin” should be on everyone’s guilty pleasure list), and in the final estimation, Used Melodies lives up to its title while also prompting the wryest of smiles. These tunes’ melodies may be used, but in this context, I don’t think anyone would consider ‘em abused.
DOWNLOAD: “Holocaust,” “It’s A Sin,” “Separate Ways”