Bubblegum-pop aficionados take note: the Brunettes might be your new favorite band. Hailing from Auckland, New Zealand, this saccharine pop outfit has been making waves in North America this spring opening for the Shins and Rilo Kiley on tour. As the vocalists and primary songwriters, Jonathan Bree and Heather Mansfield are the pillars of the collective, which fluctuates between five and ten members. With Mars Loves Venus, their second full-length, the Brunettes deliver twelve sugary pop songs that will leave you bopping along in spite of yourself.
Using everything from saxophones and trumpets to marimbas and banjos, the Brunettes combine a vintage orchestrated pop sound with playful, witty lyrics. With song titles such as “Loopy Loopy Love” and “Polyester Meets Acetate” it’s safe to assume the band doesn’t take itself too seriously. That’s not a bad thing. If nothing else, Mars Loves Venus is fun. Filled with songs about love and longing and not much else, the album teeters on the edge of being too cute, but the band has enough charm and conviction to keep from crossing that line.
Ultimately, the band’s true strength lies in the engaging interplay between Bree and Mansfield. The vocal bantering between them is endearing, and their chemistry is further strengthened by the band’s quirky lyrics. Not content to rehash clichés, the Brunettes have some of the most strikingly original lyrics in pop music today. “Your Heart Dies” contains this gem: “I could be as faithful as a seahorse/ And if you were a marine biologist/ You’d know how tender that line was.”
Pleasant as it may be, the album fails to capture the band’s true essence. The Brunettes excel in a live medium, and the energetic, charismatic show the band puts on doesn’t translate perfectly on record. If you think the songs are goofy now, you should see the Brunettes play them with Full House-era Mary Kate and Ashley masks on. That aside, Mars Loves Venus is an amusing, eccentric listen and is well worth your attention.
– June 2004