The Aquabats

Charge!!

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Their fanatical cadre will love that Charge!! ends the Aquabats' nearly six-year album drought. But the combo's hiatus has also refocused its musical and ideological attack. Intact are the pop references, zany in-jokes, and Batman villain fetishism. And the album has more exclamation points per syllable than the average lad's mag cover. (One song is simply called "Waterslides!") But Charge!! is much more rewarding musically. It doesn't loiter awkwardly between punk, pop, ska, and broad humor -- it keeps the pressure on with a catchy guitar- and keyboard-driven blend of anthemic choruses and appropriately squawky elements. Enjoyment of the Aquabats will still depend on your tolerance for gimmickry. But Charge!! has hooks and its eyes on the prize. A lot of guys have written songs about teenage dirtbags and losers getting lucky. But their subtext is usually a whiny one, like they know it's all a fantasy. Not the Aquabats. "Nerd Alert!" is not a wistful sigh but a proud call to arms. MC Bat Commander reclaims the title cliché over a kicky cross of Nerf Herder and Sparks (with sly references to the Revenge of the Nerds soundtrack), and lyrics like "The revolution has begun/So raise your fist and take a stand/With your super cool wristbands!" align "Alert!" with the 21st century's tech- and gaming-heavy "geek cool" movement. "Look at Me (I'm a Winner)!" is a shiny plastic Weezer/Cheap Trick romp; it has some terrific lyrical imagery in the line "Four radios blastin' classic rock/And they're pointing at you!" Meanwhile, "Meltdown!," "Fashion Zombies!," and "Plastic Lips!" are concise slices of new wave-inspired pop that retain that particular Aquabatian flair for the totally wiggy. Older fans might miss the horn sections or heightened theatrics. But Charge!! does geekdom proud. It proves it's possible to put "hilarious," "solid songwriting," and "mechanical ape" in the same sentence.

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