Monday, July 30, 2007

151. Rooney: Calling The World (2007)

It's safe to assume that the Schwartzman household had a pretty good record collection, including - but not limited to - Cheap Trick, The Raspberries, E.L.O. and early Elvis Costello and the Attractions. Rooney frontman Robert Schwartzman's songwriting owes a huge debt to these power pop powerhouses. So did the sound and sensibility of his brother Jason's old band, Phantom Planet. The cover art for Calling The World even looks like a Badfinger album.

Rooney's first record was a keeper. It was one of those CDs I kept trying to leave off my end-of-the-year top ten but just couldn't. On first blush, Calling The World is even better, more varied, layered and mature. And it better be! Word has it that the band recorded TWO albums between their debut and Calling The World, and weren't happy with either. Only three songs survived from the two interim albums.

As a result, Rooney sound much more seasoned than any band on its sophomore record has any business sounding. The change is especially evident in Robert's voice. He matches his delivery to the song, sounding achy on the ballads and bratty on the kiss-offs. He also changes his inflection on lines that repeat, just to keep the listener off balance. It's what you might expect from a singer that's been on the road with these songs for awhile and is intimately familiar with them.

And after working with two other producers, Rooney hit the jackpot with John Fields, a Minneapolis product with a keen ear for melody and clean sounds. Outside of Ric Ocasek, there's no better producing match for the band.

Highlights of the record include When Did Your Heart Go Missing, a propulsive, dancey lament with a great ad lib in the outro, Tell Me Soon, the kind of power ballad you feel a little bit guilty about liking and What For, a second person country excursion with a chorus-sung ending.

There's also Don't Come Around Again, a I'm-a-bad-boy song, wherein the narrator warns "Ohhh, you're asking for trouble" though the accompanying harmonies tend to undermine the sentiment. Are You Afraid Of Me really shows off Schwartzman's afforementioned vocal talents. It comes on like a lounge ballad, then goes into Styx Mr. Roboto territory, with a repeated key riff and synthesized voices.

But the best is the epic I Should Have Been After You. It's a about a boy who realizes that the girl who was hooking him up with all of her friends was really the one he wanted. As the song goes on, through three bombastic movments, you realize he has missed his chance and is kinda bitter about it. Jellyfish singer Andy Sturmer offers backup vocals.

However, not all is well. Love Me Or Leave Me is the rare song where the verses and bridge are much better than the repetitive, unimaginative chorus. Paralyzed could come from the cookie cutter new new wave factory and is, surprisingly, one of the three holdovers from previous sessions. Album closer Help Me Find My Way is a string-laden tribute to Schwartzman's father. It's hard to hate on a tribute, but there's no avoiding the fact that the song is slow and that the emotion doesn't really come across.

No matter. If papa Schwartzman was indeed the one who bent his sons' musical tastes toward power pop, Calling The World is a record he'll be proud of.

Grade: B+
Fave Song: I Should Have Been After You

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