The Wondermints

Wonderful World of the Wondermints

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Technically, this second album from the Wondermints isn't their wonderful world at all, since it consists entirely of cover songs. Figuratively, however, this is exactly the world that gave birth to and nourished the band, the great pop records of the 1960s and 1970s from which they learned their chops, and a legacy the band had not only absorbed but also taken into the future and elevated to new heights on their debut album. At the same time, although an enjoyable exercise, it is not really the artistic statement that the band had envisioned recording for their second album. It was recorded on the insistence of their Japanese label Toy's Factory. Regardless of its genesis, though, it is undoubtedly a stellar and revealing effort, a valuable window into the building blocks that created the band. The Wondermints were no strangers to covers prior to this album. The final ("white") of four fabled early demo tapes that circulated around Los Angeles in the first couple years of their existence included covers of Pilot, ELO, Badfinger, and Elvis Costello, among others. They had also contributed tracks to the acclaimed Hollies tribute album, Sing Hollies in Reverse, and a Henry Mancini tribute, as well. With Wonderful World they turned a different and more intriguing trick by pulling together a gaggle of mostly more obscure or forgotten tracks from the era and shaping them into a singular, impeccable statement. The tunes cut a wide swath from Paul Revere & the Raiders to Bacharach/David to British mods Smoke to '70s teenybopper idols the Hudson Brothers and their own "Tracy Hide," but a couple of the revisions stand out. Goffin & King's "Porpoise Song" originally appeared in the Monkees' psychedelic flick Head, but it is transformed by the Wondermints, more suited to their airy psychedelia than the tongue-in-cheeky pre-Fab Four. Their version of Glen Campbell's "Guess I'm Dumb," a Brian Wilson composition recorded to inaugurate Campbell's solo career, bolsters production and background harmonies and features a gorgeously pensive, honey-coated vocal from Darian Sahanaja. Even better, they transform "Love in the City" from a Turtles song to one that Arthur Lee and Love might have gladly sneaked onto Da Capo by quickening the pace slightly and bathing it with a kaleidoscopic edge -- a mix of punky attitude, insistent bass pulse, and a vaguely paranoid vibe with elegant strings and graceful horn charts. It is the best thing on the album, but, in truth, they better virtually every song, with the exceptions of the indomitable Five Stairsteps classic "Ooh Child," Pink Floyd's brilliant "Arnold Layne," and ABBA's "Knowing Me, Knowing You," which is really apples-and-oranges anyway. That isn't to depreciate any of the original artists, but instead says volumes about the brilliance of the Wondermints, not only their interpretive powers but also the resonance of their artistry. In a way, although it is an oblique step sideways rather than forward from their original work, Wonderful World goes further towards defining what is special about the band than their previous album had. What could have been a loose run-through or soundcheck for the "real" work turns into an album that is not only wholly enjoyable, but also stands on its own quite admirably. The music is not a pastiche of past influences; it is a refining of and advancement on them.

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