It takes chops to pull off a novelty act. All musicians who thrive off of comedy have to face that simple truth. Tenacious D, for example, has the shredding prowess to write songs about whatever they want, and Justin Hawkins’s pipes offer the Darkness a (small) shred of dignity. The two losers who play Britney Spears covers at your local open mike are, to say the least, less likely to succeed. The Advantage, a band that strictly plays the music of Nintendo games, has both the idea and the execution down: the music is played basically verbatim, and all four members have the musicianship to back it up.
The band’s eponymous debut is immensely, if a little surprisingly, entertaining. Tracks like “Wizards and Warriors — Intro” and the sugar-high “Bubble Bobble — Shark Skeleton” have the raw energy of a power-punk band and seem to scream, “No Mom, I will not tear my eyes away from that brain-sucking idiot-box video game! It improves hand-eye coordination!” One- or two-minute-long songs cater to those still riddled by ADD. But in these short bursts, the skillful composition of the music is brought to light by the quartet’s powered-up sound.
The Advantage rocks with a formula in which nostalgia is but one crucial instrument. Twin guitars mimic their MIDI forebears in graceful harmony, the bass fills up the sound nicely, and the drumming (lent by Hella’s Spencer Seim) is remarkable, considering the lack of a rhythm section in most of the original music. And the Advantage’s selection of songs balances the classic and the incredibly obscure. The oft-covered-by-crappy-ska-bands Super Mario Bros. theme is absent, though selections from Mario Bros. 2 and 3 are included. But the best tracks tend to be the barely recognizable ones: selections from Marble Madness, Bionic Commando, Goonies 2, and Wizards and Warriors are some of the album’s strongest takes.
Along with the rather obscure set list, the Advantage mostly avoids the kitschy use of Nintendo sound-effects or samples. This is not to say that the band is trying to distance itself from the label of a Nintendo cover band — the game console flying through space on the cover should dispel all such notions — but they seem to be placing definite focus on the music rather than the massive cultural phenomenon launched by Nintendo in the late ’80s.
The most important thing about the Advantage is how they balance a silly idea with the musical skills when presenting it. Perhaps all those hours spent with that little rectangular controller did wonders for their hand-eye coordination after all.