The Pin-Up Girls

Hello Pain

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Released when having a new wave sound wasn't considered wise in a pre-Franz Ferdinand alternative scene, the Pin-Up Girls' Hello Pain is a labor of love, a reaction against rap-metal and a deceptively sugarcoated homage to '80s British guitar pop. Distributed only in the group's native land, the Philippines, Hello Pain was easily the best album of 2001, a year in music notable only in how forgettable it was. Although it has a few fillers -- the original version of "Lullabye" is vastly inferior to the re-recording on 2004's U.S.-issued Taste Test: Expanded Menu; "Food for Three" is a skeletal Jesus and Mary Chain knockoff; the techno remix of "Ride Rocket Wild" is unnecessary -- much of the album destroys the competition so thoroughly that you'd expect the bandmembers to be smoking cigars afterward in victorious celebration. Delete the jetsam and you have one killer track after another: the bouncy "Ride Rocket Wild"; the two-fisted "A Cold and Better Place"; the bittersweet "Hello Pain"; and the list goes on. Guitars jangle like Aztec Camera, the Smiths, and Orange Juice used to, creating a laid-back, summer afternoon vibe that disguises the sadness in the lyrics. The warm, winsome boy/girl vocal harmonies of Mondo Castro, Jeng Tan, and Pamela Aquino add to the sweetness, and you almost don't even notice how really depressing these songs are. "A Cold and Better Place" illustrates domestic abuse with a storyteller's ear for frank, poetic description: "He struck again without warning/The blow carried her to the floor," Castro sings with detached calm. It's also catchy as hell, probably the most addictive pop song about something quite horrible since Suzanne Vega's "Luka." A record with such a mellow, melodic sound was at odds with modern-rock radio in 2001, which made Hello Pain so refreshing when it originally came out. Ironically, the Pin-Up Girls reach their highest high on their loudest tune. On "Burn," scorching riffs tear into the speakers, engulfing the ear with psychedelic fireworks. The Pin-Up Girls' love for new wave may not be heard by some American listeners, since the group doesn't bring out the usual early-'80s moves; however, the more enlightened aficionados will smile at the lyrical references to the Adventures, Echo & the Bunnymen, and Modern English.

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