Leaders In The Clubhouse

Independent release, 2015


REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


So, here’s the thing. If you want to venture down the path of Fountains of Wayne-Ben Folds-Weezer hyper-literate, super-smartass rock and roll, you need to be really, really good at it. You need to understand exactly what makes a song like “Stacy’s Mom” or “Rockin’ The Suburbs” tick—the specificity of the references, the ability to riff on and on about a topic, finding fresh, unexpected angles with every verse rather than building a song around a single punchline. You need to be able to build an entire world within a few lines and populate it with recognizable characters.

And hooks. You need really good hooks.

Musical partners in crime Spud Davenport (vocals, piano, keys, guitars, bass) and Charlie Recksieck (vocals, drums, keys, guitars, kazoo and theremin) make music that’s very much in that Fountains-Folds vein, with a bit of an irascible Randy Newman edge as well. It’s power-pop with an extra helping of sass, something that Recksieck and Davenport refer to as “fun rock” (sure, why not).

One of the interesting things about Won is that the emphasis tracks up front, the ones with the big-attention-getting lyrical hooks and topical references, are the ones that worked least well for me. “She Gets Loud” takes an inherently funny premise—the noisy lover—and never really develops it. It’s a one-joke song that runs four minutes and tragically fails to reach an, um, satisfying conclusion; a tale like this really needs a dramatic arc that leads to a clever final twist, and both are missing. This failure to build on the initial premise leaves the whole thing feeling like an overlong fart joke; you laugh once early on and then wait for it to be over.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Second track “These Goddamn Devices” tries to capture the zeitgeist with an ode the frustrations of technology—“It’s progress in reverse”—but ends up feeling rather obvious. “Hater” makes some apt observations, e.g. “These days there’s so much mediocrity,” along the way, as does the distinctly Darwinian “Law Of The Jungle,” which makes a winking argument for thinning the herd of the human race (“They wouldn’t last a day on their own / If tigers were around”).

“Trophies” is where Won begins to blossom. At first it feels a bit predictable in the way it takes on the “participation trophy” mentality (“You don’t get a trophy / Just for showing up”), but then three minutes in the song detours into an extended, piano-based bridge in which the boys fire back with pointed lines like “The hero stays out of the spotlight,” before circling back. It’s a funny song with a point, and one that locates the critical balance point between snark and sincerity and shows real creativity to its changes.

From there, “Museums” pokes at intellectual pretension in a rather deadpan way and is all the more effective for that. “Awkward Town” opens with a pretty piano melody before diving into a tune about “an earthbound planet Pluto”—a town that gets no respect, and all the people living there who think they’re too good for it.

The duo enlists horns to add welcome dimension and playfulness to several tunes here, including “Law Of The Jungle,” “Museums,” “Awkward Town,” a well-arranged take on Harry Nilsson’s “Old Forgotten Solider” (the one cover here), and closer “Lawnchairs,” a tune about the simple joys of viewing the apocalypse from a comfy seat.

In the end, one-note jokes like “She Gets Loud” and “24/8 Bar Song” serve to make you appreciate that much more what a band like Fountains Of Wayne does; their songs feature fully-realized, three-dimensional characters like you might find in a good novel, they never indulge in easy stereotypes, and they always seem to balance humor with earnestness. That takes a kind of dedication to craft that Leaders In The Clubhouse seem capable of, but demonstrate only intermittently here.

The point of these comparisons is not to criticize Leaders, but to underscore just how difficult it is to pull this type of music off successfully. They say “comedy is hard”; so is “fun rock.” In the end, Won won me over with its amiably shaggy vibe; on the whole, it’s an enjoyable romp that’s full of exuberant flair and promise for the future. I’m looking forward to hearing more from Davenport and Recksieck.

Rating: B

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



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