Record labels have always been known to tinker with their artists. Whether it be the machinations of Barry Gordy and his infamous “hit or no hit” symposium or the mere pairing of song with artist, labels have seen fit to expand their gaze past the business of producing widgets to musical alchemy. Understandably, after only a few minutes of Out Here All Night, you’d assume Damone is one such corporate concoction. With syrupy-sweet pop songs adroitly camouflaged as angst-ridden mall punk, Damone sounds like Island’s attempt at filling Avril Lavigne’s now vacant throne. Not so fast, cynics!
It turns out Damone wasn’t formed in some boardroom on Wilshire Boulevard, but rather in a basement by a sexually frustrated songwriter whose prolific output consistently fell on deaf ears. Taking a page from Bow Wow Wow’s playbook, Damone coalesced when said songwriter (Dave Pino) realized A&R guys would much rather hear his songs emanate from a barely legal ingénue than from his homely face. Fast-forward a few years and Dr. Frankenstein’s creation has run amok, because Pino has left the band for less corporate pastures. Despite Damone’s organic beginnings, Out Here All Night is the true embodiment of record-label meddling.
An ominous sign graces the album’s back cover: three different engineer credits. This immediately conjures up one of two scenarios: (1) the band was so horrendously unbearable that several people refused to work with it for the album’s entirety, or (2) after hearing the first mixes, the label insisted the songs be reworked by an illustrious (successful) engineer. (My money is on the latter, because U2/Rolling Stones/Hanson alum Tom Lord-Alge’s name appears first.)
And it’s impressive what the engineers have done here: I’ve never quite heard distortion sound quite so tame. From the galloping title track to the proficient power-pop of “On Your Speakers,” the music sounds as squeaky clean as your local wedding band’s. Clearly, someone has insisted that the same impeccable arrangements that Hillary Duff employs are used for Damone. Don’t want to scare the parents, after all.
Despite shared writing credits, it seems the majority of Damone’s lyrics were culled from the diary of lead singer Noelle (no last name). On “Stabbed in the Heart,” she laments, “I kinda heard you talking with your friend on the phone/ about who you went out with and who you took home/ I thought I had you, but I shoulda known.” For a final aural insult, Damone manages to turn Iron Maiden’s “Wasted Years” into a Mannheim Steamroller tour de force.
Damone has quit the Pygmalion routine since Pino’s departure, but Out Here All Night still seems like an exercise in puppetry. Only now instead of one man, a whole corporation is tugging on the strings. Dance, Damone, dance.