The first Wonderboy album is a solid representation of one of the most loved combos on the Los Angeles underground pop scene of the early '90s. It is not, however, without its flaws, the main one being that it proved difficult to entirely harness in the studio the explosive energy that made the band one of the most exciting acts to see live. The quartet could kick up an infectious punk-pop ruckus, and that partly comes through on the album, but more through the performance of the band than through the actual sound of the recording. Instead of recreating the cavernous, upfront live feel, as seems to be the clear aim of the album, the production on Wonderboy sounds too tinny and canned; as a result, the guitars sound closer to heavy metal than punk and are pushed too far into the background, while Robbie Rist's vocals (which can be an acquired taste in the first place) frequently sound as if they are coming from another room entirely. The other primary flaw is the inconsistent set of songs that Rist wrote for the album, something that would plague both the first two albums. He proves himself capable, through half the album, of writing some ecstatically great power pop tunes, which the band then proceeds to pummel through at high speeds and with ferocity. Much of the rest of the writing, however, is only half-formed. "Web of Lies," for instance, operates on a wonderfully jangly Byrds riff and the song's central conceit -- vulnerable guy as prey for aggressive girl -- is an interesting flip of the norm, but the song too often falters into melodrama. A few silly lyrical ideas mar the otherwise nifty rocker "The F Word." Still more disappointing, although a much less frequent occurrence, is the out-and-out filler that veers far too closely toward the early-'90s mainstream, such as the unsavory hair metal of "Fair Is Fair" and the sweeping ballad "We Cry," which the band should have given to Heart instead. When the songs are on, though, they absolutely hit the mark. "Shouldn't I Know More by Now" is a superb piece of gutsy angst to open the album, while "You Can Rest Easy Tonight" is full of lovely, subtle chord and tempo changes and some knowing, moving lyrics. Even better is the jaunty, optimistic "Burning Bridges" and its dismissive counterpart "Rebel Town," a diatribe against fake rebellion and stylish noncomformists. Wonderboy is only partly satisfying, but then a partly satisfying Wonderboy album is better than no Wonderboy at all.
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AllMusic Review by Stanton Swihart