Mello Cads

Gentle Explosion

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Gentle Explosion is a very different sort of record from its predecessor. For one, David Ponak dispensed with about seven layers of irony. His lyrics and vocal performance on this follow-up don't, as a rule, ooze with the overweening insincerity of his swinging lizardoid alter ego like they did throughout the wonderfully absurd concept pompousness of Soft as a Rock. In fact, though his jet-setting doppelgänger does turn up in various spots ("Sin City," the intentionally silly ersatz disco of "King of Tokyo," the slithery electro-funk of "Roppongi Nights"), Ponak plays it relatively -- emphasis on the relatively -- straight here for a good portion of the album. Whenever a band that previously made witty ridiculousness one of the identifying tags of its act decides instead to ditch most of the shtick, there's a danger that they'll sap the vitality of the music right along with it. That's not at all the case here, not even a little bit. For one, Gentle Explosion is still a total lark much of the time, though a very different kind of lark, to be sure, sans the hammy overarching premise and thick smears of smarm. For another, when it does go soft rock earnest and stony-faced, the album has a secret weapon: the Mello Cads themselves are about as crackerjack as Hollywood musicians come. They could, and do, make anything they play sound effortless and captivating. Easy listening lounge (the cha cha of "My Angel of Death," "You Are Too Beautiful") is still an important touchstone here -- with Ponak's swank baritone, it probably couldn't be any other way -- but there is a lot more to the music than kitsch MOR, fun as those dizzy little pirouettes are. The heart of the album is in guileless pop/rock. The expertly baroque "Love Is All I Have to Give," the urbane Bacharach-David lite-soul of "Start (Before You Break My Heart)," groovy cabaret on "Isobelle," the romantic mini-epic "Into the Night" -- these are genuinely lovely, heartfelt songs, whether in or out of context. And on the whole, this is a more self-effacing, modest Mello Cads, but the pleasures of Gentle Explosion are just as extravagant.

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