The Star Spangles

Bazooka!!!

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On their debut album Bazooka!!!, the Star Spangles mix of the poppier side of late-'70s punk with the college rock and power pop of the early and mid-'80s, borrowing from such luminaries as the Only Ones, Cheap Trick, and the Replacements. It's hard to fault a band for having such good taste in music, but for most of the album it feels like the Star Spangles are more focused on re-creating the greatest hits of their record collections instead of crafting something distinctive from their influences. Indeed, the album features a straightforward cover of "Crime of the Century," originally by Gang War, a collaboration between the New York Dolls' Johnny Thunders and the MC5's Wayne Kramer; the relative obscurity of the song wins the band some credibility points, but "I'll Get Her Back," which is basically a rewrite of the Hoodoo Gurus' classic "I Want You Back," promptly deducts them. More troubling than the fact that the Star Spangles' debut features one-and-a-half covers is that those songs happen to be among the album's most distinctive tracks. The band's songs revolve around girls, rock, hanging out, and rebelling -- the purest elements of rock songwriting -- but instead of sounding timeless, songs like "I Live for Speed," "Angela," and "Science Fiction/Science Fact" end up sounding contrived. Sometimes, though, the Star Spangles' scruffy charm is winning enough to override the fact that most of it is borrowed: "Which of the Two of Us Is Gonna Burn This House Down" may have its loping rhythms and singalong/shoutalong choruses on loan from the Replacements, but it's still appealing in its own right; likewise, the sweetly awkward ballad "In Love Again" and tougher songs like "Stay Away From Me" and "If We Can't Be Lovers" hint at a more personal voice emerging in the band's music. For most of Bazooka!!!, the Star Spangles sound like a rowdy bar band just playing a set of songs they love. That's both a blessing and a curse, but it's possible that the earnestness the band displays on this album will make their next one more distinctive.

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