Nothing's quite as depressing as watching someone waste her musical talent in humiliating ways. Well, okay--sometimes it's sort of funny, too. I mean, you enjoy the Mariah-doped-up-on-prescription-pills photos as much as the next Entertainment Weekly addict, right? And why shouldn't you? There's something about rock star self-indulgence carried to the absolute extreme that almost satirizes the culture that created it--all of which makes for guaranteed good fun, in a this-society's-going-straight-to-hell sort of way.
For proof, just look at the new Trans Am record. These former Oberlin College students have bordered on self-parody in the past, decorating their fairly straightforward low-budget synth-rock with a predilection for Pete Townshend guitar-god moves. But even that playfulness doesn't explain TA's dumb cover--a supposedly ironic collision of Eighties metal art with classic Master P stylings, enlivened by closeups of the studly Trans Am dudes in white suits.
Like its cover, much of TA's music is enjoyable in spite of--or sometimes because of--its ineptitude. "Cold War," for instance, is an electro-rock concoction underscored by a pleasantly Kraftwerk-esque synthesizer. But there's a stylistic dilettantism that renders the whole thing hollow--like an exercise in homage rather than actual songwriting. Same goes for "Run With Me," which pulls a couple of hard-rockin' Bryan Adams moves but forgets that the real Bryan Adams does them so much better. The worst offender, however, is the truly execrable "Basta," whose weak-like-wet-paper beats fry up a "Mexican-flavored" rap song in the same way that Taco Bell cooks up "Mexican" food. TA finds Trans Am trying on a whole entourage of musical styles in a way that would like to scream, I have a hip, offhanded understanding of recycled popular culture, but really ends up looking kind of lame--like, uh, actual Eighties popular culture.
There was a time, maybe only a few years back, when this kind of pseudo-ironic posturing was all the rage in indieland, when Stephen Malkmus's off-the-cuff witticisms were considered cutting-edge rather than irksomely collegiate. Perhaps Trans Am are guilty only of sticking around too long. But in this post-Nineties, post-ironic marketplace, their music is no longer bitingly sarcastic. It's quaint.
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