The Red Telephone: The Red Telephone

The Red Telephone
The Red Telephone
Warner Bros.

CALL IT "CRISIS in Corporate Rock-Land, Episode #219." The fact that the kids don't want to rock like they used to is hardly a secret to anyone who has been paying attention, but no one has ever accused the music industry of being particularly astute, much less a wide-eyed observer of the trends that ultimately butter their bread. After the guitar-rock feast of the early '90s, the majors slumbered like grandpa at Thanksgiving, waking up to find themselves lapping at a plateful of nothing--a downward turn in rock sales, no superstars with staying power, and no fertile underground scenes to exploit.

Facing the challenge of reviving its ailing cash cow, the record industry is relying on a time-honored strategy: Keep putting out the same shit. Enter the Red Telephone, a Boston quartet with a bagful of venerable influences, a name copped from a wonderful Love song, and a sound as timeless as it is unremarkable. And while the band and their label would like very much for this second CD to provide the soundtrack to this summer's edition of teenage heartbreak-hanging-out-drinking-at-the-7-Eleven-cruising-around-town, they hardly provide a compelling reason for said teens to bump Master P in favor of TRT.

Not that some of the material isn't car-stereo worthy. The promising first track, "You Framed Yourself," takes its cues from midcareer Cheap Trick (think One On One), building tension with canny crescendos and key changes that keep upping the ante until the climactic "Oh, yeaaaoooh!" Songwriter Matt Hutton keeps the vocals tightly coiled until the right moment, making for as exciting a two minutes and six seconds as I'm likely to spend under my headphones all summer. Likewise, "Piranha" lets loose with a melodic torpedo aimed right at the part of your brain that won't let you forget the chorus of "Hey, Jealousy" no matter how hard you try.

Most of the material, however, begs comparison to timeworn bricks in the alt-rock facade. It takes a few listens to recognize the Pixies cribs in "Bionic," and when the synapses connect, Hutton's wan Black Francis impression begins to sound a bit silly. "14 and a Half" shamelessly channels Big Star's "Thirteen" through the Replacements' "16 Blue." Lost in the transmission are Alex Chilton's gift for subtle menace and Paul Westerberg's aching compassion. In their stead, Hutton offers hackneyed imagery ("loose change/spring rain/ and the face of a girl") and embarrassing poetry ("And though she's there with a smile/he don't feel worthwhile"). It could have been written in front of a mirror.

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