It's pretty clear right off the bat why Merge might want to pick up Let's Wrestle's debut album and release it in the U.S. Merge has, after all, been leading the Western Hemisphere in releases by New Zealand indie rockers. And those jangly guitars and loose drums that Let's Wrestle feature share more than a passing glance with all that Kiwi-pop.
Of course, the other thing that's apparent from word one is that the members of Let's Wrestle aren't from New Zealand. They are British, and they come packaged with a requisite wit and sneering punk edge to their songs, melding some of the Clash's feel in with the Clean's. That combination helps In the Court of the Wrestling Let's manage both textured pop and barely post-teenage energy -- and crash the two together in infectious and compelling ways.
For one, these songs can be awfully charming in their self-deprecation. "They say if you want to help," the boys sing at one point, "well, just kill yourself." Thankfully they don't take the advice, but the point is made: These guys don't take themselves seriously and, according to them, neither does anyone else.
Which would be too bad because, goofy as these songs are, they can be as catchy as power-pop gets. And they run the young-lad emotional gamut with both a wink and a hand on their heart. Let's Wrestle celebrate the small victories (having those few extra bucks to buy a girl at the bar a drink) while still pining over the follies of youth (the record collection as a failed shield against heartache, for example). These are stories told to the nth degree. An entire fleet of policemen couldn't help them talk to a girl, as we find out on album standout "Tanks," and the trudging errand list of "My Schedule" thumps along like a death march.
But each of these songs is told with both dark humor and just the thinnest lining of earnest emotion -- not to mention hooks to spare. Let's Wrestle may, in all their zeal, cram a couple songs too many onto this record, but it's a minor setback for a pop record that carries as much melody as it does personality. "We are the men you'll grow to love soon," they assure us halfway through the record. And, despite the heavy doses of irony here, I don't doubt them for a second.
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