When I think of Pretty Girls Make Graves, I think of Post-it Notes. Seriously. Before even thinking of the Smiths. Because just as Post-its were created not by years of research but by a group of people who stumbled upon a new product, Pretty Girls Make Graves does best when it stops thinking so hard and lets itself go.
On its second album, The New Romance, the quintet spends parts of the album aiming to take a stand and inspire the kids. Yet these high-achiever tracks are laden with such glaring lyrics that the expert-guitar and drum work are overlooked. It’s the mistakes, though — the songs where the band doesn’t try so hard — that prove PGMG to be a powerful force.
“This Is Our Emergency,” being pushed as the album’s big single, is a big flop; trite lines flagrantly attempt to get fists pumping, but it’s about as inspiring as a having Dick Cheney sing “London Calling.” “When you’ve finally thrown up your hand / poured your heart out, yet nothing stands / It seems our efforts are wasted / but yet it hasn’t been in vain,” go the opening lines. But who is the band kidding? All it gets me to do is blush with embarrassment at what people are touting as the Voice of the Moment.
If PGMG had pushed the strong “All Medicated Geniuses” it would be a different story. Starting innocuously enough with a tambourine, the song suddenly shifts into full throttle as guitarists Nathan Thelen and Jay Clark begin their dizzying descent, bassist Derek Fudesco has his bass line strutting around, and Nick Dewitt packs a one-two punch on his drums. But it’s the lyrics of vocalist Andrea Zollo that make the song; whereas “This Is Our Emergency” preaches like an after-school special, making its point painfully obvious, “All Medicated Geniuses” relies on abstract ideas to become the mediators between band and listener. By not trying so hard to get out their ideas, PGMG actually makes it easier to take in all they are saying.
But Zollo’s vocals fall into the same trap as the lyrics. On tracks where her voice is overly produced, she comes off as little more than the next American Idol. It’s when the production gets raw, and, again, when she doesn’t try so hard, that her voice gains complexity, pulling you in while shoving you away. On the title track, Zollo’s entirely unique voice, best described as a combination of Mandy Moore and Karen O, competes with the propelling organ line for center stage, making for an exciting battle.
Live, PGMG will get your fist pumping and your cheeks red, but from exhilaration rather than embarrassment. Even “This Is Our Emergency” will arouse excitement, not because of the lyrical strengths of the song, but because live the band embraces spontaneity, metamorphosing into the band they are on their best album tracks. It is a band to see live, and yes, despite the weaker moments, it is a band to listen to in the basement, the bedroom, the garage, and the rooftop, for the sheer exhilaration they exude during their strong moments. Moments so strong, in fact, they make Post-its look weak.