Forget About the Girl

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I.S.S. have described themselves as a "time warping boy band," and one look through this album's lyrics lets you know they have something up their sleeve. But regardless of the conceptual subtext behind this album -- a commentary on the teen pop-infested state of pop music in the Britney Spears/*NSYNC era or the result of a deep and perverse fascination with the boy band genre -- what really matters is that I.S.S. has come up with a beautiful set of innocent, nostalgic pop songs, focusing on the timeworn themes of love and longing (with a few sarcastic twists lurking beneath the surface). The album plays out like a tour through different styles of boy band-related music, including doo wop ("Bad Doggy"), New Kids on the Block-style dance-pop cheese ("Forget About the Girl"), and lots of Beach Boys worship (specifically the Pet Sounds era). Some of the songs come across as guileless and genuinely moving ("Sarah's Song," "Remember What We Had," "I'm a Fool for You"), while others seem peaceful enough on the surface, but reveal a darker side when you really pay attention to the lyrics (for example, "Only in My Dreams," where leader Tim Smolens calmly sings, "You took me out into the desert and left me there for dead/The vultures have found me," which is really funny given the context). Unfortunately, some of the songs are marred by injections of overly obvious (and therefore both intrusive and not funny) "humor," namely "Bad Doggy" and the title track. As a listener, it is frustrating to hear such well-written songs as the former sabotaged by these kinds of sophomoric antics. (This is something Frank Zappa, whose Cruising With Ruben and the Jets is a conceptual reference point for this album, did at times, too.) On the plus side, these distractions make up just a minor part of the album. I.S.S.'s actual music is more than strong enough to stand on its own -- they rank up there with XTC offshoot Dukes of Stratosphear as far as transcending novelty on the strength of their songwriting and singing/musicianship. Forget About the Girl is, for the most part, an excellent album; if these guys could work out some of the humor-related kinks, they could come up with a real masterpiece.

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