Every time an artist dies or a band breaks up, it leaves a hole in our heart. We search for another to fill it, hoping they can bring some of the same qualities or feels that our beloved genius used to. Neil Young filled the void for some that was left by John Lennon, and Prince for Freddy Mercury. There are 20 makeshift Elliott Smiths and 100 imitation Kurt Cobains. Sometimes they are a needed diversion, sometimes a new obsession, but always, something. The void may seem small to some, but when the Smith Westerns broke up, who would provide our precious crap rock? Our rock that was sophomoric and simplistic and Ramonesy and terribly recorded? Well, fear no more, the Jacuzzi Boys will. Well, they will try. Well, actually, they will fail.
Their first record since the average 2013 self-titled, and five years since the above-average Glazin’; Jacuzzi Boys are back with all the fuzz, all the haze and all the energy that won them Iggy Pop as a fan. I guess what they forgot is the songs. “Boys Like Blood” feels like a good pop song until you pay attention. It collapses in your mouth like an empty jelly donut. “Refrigeration” is annoyingly simple the first time you get to the chorus, and there are still 2 minutes left.
“Seventeen” starts out promising with a juicy melody on the verse, a syncopated pre-chorus and well-paced pop on the main chorus line. The problem is, the song caves under its own weight. Four minutes and four seconds is a lifetime in Jacuzzi Boys time, their pop punk songs don’t have the substance to be stretched that long. “Zoo” also starts well, with a catchy and slightly off kilter drum beat, but when the song hits, you find a placeholder, melody-less hook. It sounds like a demo that a friend would play for you in high school and say, “the verse isn’t done yet, just wait until the chorus.”
The word annoying almost never comes to mind while I listen to music, but by the tenth time the singer croons “Strange Exchange”, I want to close my computer and take a walk by myself. Other lyrics sound especially uninspired — “Iodine tonight” repeated over and over again, not enough fuzz to hide the repetition, and not enough melody to pass the test.
The closest thing to a highlight here would be “Can’t Fight Forever” which could also double as the way your hand feels towards the stop button. But where the other songs fail to have a message, “Can’t Fight Forever” gives the vibe of a skateboarder giving up on running away from home and finally returning where he belongs. The chorus melody bends and twists, it hits the niche just right.
The production is confused, though. The lo-fi sits oddly underneath vocals with clarity. Are they trying to follow in the footsteps of the Replacements? Or late 90’s Guided by Voices? Speaking of Bob Pollard, “Gamma” has a great riff in the vein of mid 00’s Pollard solo glory, but the bland lyrics are a trash can for the energy they built up. But back to the tones of the instruments, a producer with a vision could have really spiced things up here. Take No Age’s layers and layers of fuzz, bury these songs in sandy, deep production, and you have a different record on your hands. Ultimately, Ping Pong, is a disappointing step for a once promising garage rock act. I guess we can still go back and listen to our old Smith Western’s records. C