This whole rock revival, aside from giving music journalists something new to chew on and argue about in their insular way, has bred a new mediocrity. Is This It? seems to be aging well, but does anyone still care about the Vines? Did anyone ever? It’s easy to blame the Strokes for ushering in this new middle-of-the-road rock brigade, but please, let’s recognize that it has popularized some really fun music. Remember that commercial featuring the Mooney Suzuki? The teen dramas with indie bands as guest stars? If anything, this movement, for better or worse, did help eighty-six the late-’90s bubblegum pop assault that even a hermit was hard pressed to avoid.
Residing in the upper third of this ongoing garage rock revival is Chicago’s the Ponys, and their debut long-player, Laced with Romance, wears its influences on its sleeve, as the best in the genre have. Televison comes to mind, first of all, as vocalist Jered Gummere affects his voice with all of Tom Verlaine’s attitude and splendor. And the Velvet Underground is in there, or course, and a little smidgen of the Stones. Each track has the fuzzy, reverb-soaked production quality that emerges as strived for (read: paid for), a la Yeah Yeah Yeahs’s debut. But since this more or less works, so be it.
The record kicks off with “Let’s Kill Ourselves,” where Gummere promptly confirms his prowess with a steady riff, leading into the cute hook of “10 Fingers 11 Toes.” It’s always enjoyable, particularly “Little Friends,” an ode to pet ownership, but it’s clear after the first third that there’s not much diversity going on here. The Ponys sure got enough pop melodies to fill the record. The keyboards come in all the right places. Gummere even lets girlfriend and bassist Melissa Elias chime in vocally on the weaker “Chemical Imbalance.” And the fact is, though not that innovative, verse-chorus-verse still works, damn it. The Ponys know this, and Laced with Romance may be the best example of it this year.