The Ponys: Celebration Castle

The Ponys
Celebration Castle
In the Red


At last we know how Marquee Moon would've sounded with Steve Albini at the helm: Worse. On their 2004 debut, "Laced With Romance," these Chicagoan devotees of all things CBGB tumbled into each other's licks with the fallible invulnerability of young musicians anticipating each other's mistakes and encouraging new ones. But the quartet's briars of tinny guitar treble prove no match for the producer's much-self-touted technological acumen. Those precise guitar parts struggling toward the surface of "Another Wound" can only dream of being pop hooks someday--Albini dulls barbs and muffles chimes as though in misguided homage to the dim, inexpert indie recordings of the '80s. And yet, as anyone who's learned to endure Tommy Erdelyi's mishandling of Tim can attest, not all great records sound perfect.

So suck it up, because in truth, Albini's presence is a mixed blessing: His dampening sonic cloth would be much less frustrating if he hadn't also goaded the band into outpacing itself, even toughening up a tad. The kids who serenaded their kitties on "Little Friends" dig in so convincingly on "Ferocious" and "We Shot the World" that none dare call them twee, son. And that new attitude firms up their us-against-the-world stance: last time "Let's Kill Ourselves" served as a slyly backhanded call to camaraderie; here, Ian Adams (who's since, regrettably, taken his Peter Perrett imitation elsewhere) empathetically wonders, "Are you afraid to seem retarded/When you go outside and do the things you do?" on the Agoraphobe Liberation anthem "I'm With You." And hell, maybe Albini even helped Jered Gummere learn to temper the jaded gloat of Richard Hell with the urbane romanticism of Tom Verlaine. The singer's fervent crackle on the bridge of "Glass Conversation" mixes desperation, empathy, and snottiness in the kind of precisely effective proportion that indicates the proximity of some hard-assed vet in the booth who knows a killer vocal take when he hears it.

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