The Mooney Suzuki have made it clear with the release of Alive & Amplified that they want to be a big-time rock band. They see no reason to stay a small, cult band. Did the Rolling Stones record for an indie label? Did the Kinks release 45s in editions of 200 copies? Did the MC5 record their albums on a beat-up four-track in somebody's basement? Of course not. The Mooney Suzuki want to be all over the radio dial, they want to blanket your TV with videos, star in their own films, play stadiums, and generally stand atop the music world like denim-clad gods. To that end they have forsaken the Jim Diamonds of the world for the slick clutches of the Matrix, a production and songwriting squad best known for their handling of Avril Lavigne and Liz Phair. You can call the group sellouts if you like, but why begrudge them their slice of the pie, why deny them the chance to be players instead of bystanders? You might even call their eager desire to be glittering cogs in the machine admirable. At least they don't pretend to be something they are not. Where it all breaks down is when you actually listen to the record. Alive & Amplified is pretty lousy. The Matrix (and the bandmembers themselves -- you have to blame them as well) have contrived to strip away the things that made the band good, in order to smooth their sound out for what they hope is mass consumption. Their last record, Electric Sweat, sounded tough, full of soul, and alive, jumping out of the speakers like the best rock always has, from the Stones to the Strokes. This album is coated in so much studio gloss and rigid formulaic sound that it could have been played by machines. The only things that leap out at you are the occasional guitar solo and Sonny James' voice when he lets loose with a Rob Tyner-esque howl. In fact, for all the band's talk about embracing "maximalism" as its new theory of recording, all it seems to amount to are some female backing vocals and an extra layer or two of guitars. Where are the horn sections, the Mellotrons, the strings, the sense of exploration? Above all, where are the surprises? The record is predictable right down to the acoustic power ballad ("Sometimes Somethin'"), the mock epic album-closer (the thoroughly stupid "Naked Lady"), and the good-time party tunes that pack about as much punch as Muhammad Ali does these days ("Shake That Bush Again," "Messin' in the Dressin' Room"). You may have noticed from the song titles a disturbing trend. While the band has never professed to be poets, the lyrics here are shockingly bad. Worse than anything Lenny Kravitz has ever tortured his fans with, worse than just about any rock band in recent memory. Maybe they were aiming for intentionally insipid lyrics as some kind of ironic statement, maybe they thought people were clamoring for paeans to naked ladies ("shine on naked lady"), songs about underage girls ("Legal High"), girls who are as sweet as honey bees, and songs with deep thoughts like "sometimes somethin' comes from nothin'." The obligatory hidden bonus track even sports a chorus that (seemingly seriously) implores listeners to "come on, come on, come on the Love Bus." Whatever they were thinking, it was wrong. The whole record is wrong. Predictable, slick, soulless, and worst of all, boring, it meets the expectations of everyone who thought the band was foolish for working with the Matrix. From the sound to the songs right down to the terrible cover art and hilariously corny photo of the band, it fails mightily at everything it attempts. The only redeeming aspect of the record is that maybe the songs that so shamelessly ape the MC5 will inspire people to break out their MC5 records and listen to a band who truly understood the "maximalist" approach to rock & roll music. If you are reading this and have never heard the MC5, for the love of Mike forget the Mooney Suzuki and their pale imitation and get yourself down to your megastore and pick up High Time or Back in the USA right away.
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AllMusic Review by Tim Sendra