The Sun’s two EPs — Love and Death (2003) and Did Your Mother Tell You? (2004) — created enough buzz to land them touring slots alongside the likes of the Flaming Lips and Hot Hot Heat. Those EPs had the right mix of filthy garage noise, occasional acoustic balladry and playful synth that indie labels dream of finding as they sift through dustbin wannabes. Unfortunately, Blame it on the Youth, the long-awaited debut full-length from the Columbus, Ohio four-piece — is the kind of glossy alt.rock those same indie labels would pass on after a ten-second spin.
That’s not to say the album doesn’t show flashes of brilliance. Lead singer Chris Burney has a smooth voice that complements the opening R&B of “Say Goodbye,” which devolves into a bubblegum gallop of Stooges lyricism (“your little girl is going to hell!”) and Ramones punk. The band pulls it off, but this ends up being the only dirty little surprise on the album.
The Sun has studied the Pixies’ Surfer Rosa and has realized that building on that album is agreeable and legitimate. “Taking the Lord’s Name in Vein” takes on the guitar squeal and crazed, distorted vocals of the Pixies’ “Something Against You,” and “2B4” substitutes the Spanish lyrics of “Oh My Golly” for full-tilt Spanish guitar. Album closer “Valentine” is another high moment, pinning Depeche Mode against a wall of Smashing Pumpkins’ guitar fuzz. It’s almost as if the band realized its own competency while recording “Valentine,” and I hope it’s a clue as to where they’re headed.
But these moments are all the more frustrating because there’s no follow through. What happened to the attitude? The album bogs down when the Sun slicks up. It’s not that it’s too early for a nineties revival, but “Lost at Home” and “Waiting on High” are the kind of harmless tracks that Fuel and the Wallflowers would push onto the airwaves. Burney’s voice needs to be heard, but he gets lost in the chop of clunky rhythms and chunky synth of “Rockstop.” That he can sing doesn’t always mean he has something to say. “Pavement Jive” is about the murder of a cheating girlfriend, but it loses all edge or reality with the chorus: “I heard you’ve been cheating on me and that ain’t cool boom, boom, cap, cap, they’ll blame it on the youth, they’ll blame it on the rap.” The same goes for “Romantic Death”: “Close your eyes, kiss my lips, I’ll put my hands on your hips.” There’s nothing mysterious about that; it’s the kind of dance that an alt.rock frontman might leave his bill-paying group to go solo for.
Blame it on the Youth is not a supernova of caged genius that the Sun’s EPs would have led us to expect; it’s the sound of a band trying to find a direction. They’ve drawn the lines, and maybe next time they’ll be ready to cut. As for now, it’s probably best to blame this one on youth.