The Virgins have been on a meteoric rise since playing alongside Patti Smith and Sonic Youth at fashion week in Paris — it was their third-ever show — and getting signed to Atlantic after one EP, supposedly before anyone at the label actually saw the band live. It’s reminiscent of a certain other group of leather-jacket-wearing New Yorkers that rose to prominence earlier this decade. And just like the Strokes, the Virgins offer nothing “new” by way of sonics. They emphasize self-mythologizing over substance and think that song topics begin and end with describing how hard they party.
The one distinguishing characteristic that The Virgins have to keep them separate from any number of leather-clad New York bands looking for 1970s credibility is their slightly different sound. Instead of trying to sound like Television would if they were still together trying to get songs on the pop charts, the Virgins want to sound like Elvis Costello if he had been as equally enamored with Hall and Oates as he was the Sex Pistols (and I mean that in the best sense of the comparison).
However, the band’s need to flaunt their coolness nearly derails the album at the start. Opener “She’s Expensive,” a new wave-y jam that finds lead Virgin Donald Cumming describing a “cocaine breakfast” with a girl he’s seeing is a rocking, paint-by-numbers tale of a sordid relationship. With second track “One Week of Danger,” the band continue their act as preening rock kings before they’ve even established their worthiness. A cross between the easy hooks of Kenny Loggins and the swagger of the New York Dolls, the track aims for greatness without ever delivering the goods. Same goes for similar tracks like “Private Affair,” “Radio Christiane” (a sub-Strokes rocker — think “12:51” minus the catchiness), and “Hey Hey Girl.”
When the Virgins switch into a more-focused, white-boy, pop-R&B mode, at times, they can’t avoid sounding like Maroon 5 version 2.0 — especially on closer “Love Is Colder than Death,” "Fernando Pando,” and “Teen Lovers.” But when the band are able to play convincing ‘80s R&B pilferers, the results couldn’t be better. On first single “Rich Girls,” a propulsive (and downright catchy) bass line glides around the track as Cumming coos his account of rich girls being “so stuck up.” The track sounds like a long lost soundtrack cut from Sixteen Candles, where it would have worked splendidly as music for Anthony Michael Hall to strut to.
All the stars align on “Murder,” which finds the band sounding like the house band for a party at John Hughes’ house in the late ‘80s. Somehow, they are able to make a song with a guitar melody fresh off a Time Life collection from 1985, a rubber-band bass line, and an Elvis Costello-like yarn comparing a relationship ending badly to murder (“It feels like Murder”), seem incredibly fresh. Unfortunately, these moments of ‘80s pop greatness are fleeting.
Of course, The Virgins isn’t a collection of completely original music, poised to shake up your perception of guitar music. When the Virgins are paying homage to their New York forefathers in terms of their aesthetic and lyrical content, they have trouble distinguishing themselves from the Jets of the world. But when they’re willing to allow themselves to be a band that’s equally beholden to Daryl Hall and Richard Hell, any question of originality is left by the wayside. You’ll be too busy dancing to care.