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The Makes Nice - Candy Wrapper and Twelve Other Songs

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Artist: The Makes Nice

Album: Candy Wrapper and Twelve Other Songs

Label: Frenetic

Review date: Feb. 9, 2007

When a record's as nostalgic for Nuggets-era 1960s as this one, you can't help but think about all the ways the context for fuzzy sweet rock and roll has changed since the heyday. The gas we put in our T-Birds - at least until daddy takes them away - funds Osama Bin Laden and costs a good chunk of our dwindling paychecks. Sunny, California-like days make us uneasy, because they're melting the polar ice caps and ushering in some sort of weather apocalypse. We can't even go to the beach without worrying about skin cancer. It's just not possible to be this dumb-fuck happy and carefree anymore, and I think, in their heart of hearts, the boys of The Makes Nice know it. It's not the candy they're singing about, it's the wrapper, the empty husk of the good times that none of us were around to appreciate.

So while, on one level, Candy Wrapper and Twelve Other Songs is the most exuberant kind of garage pop - akin to Jersey-ite Who/Kinks/Zombies channelers like the Insomniacs and the Anderson Council, there's a hidden edge. You don't write your prettiest girl-song about someone named "Anna Karina" unless you've thought about jumping under a train...or at least know people who have. People who are paying attention will notice that the extra-cute, Asian-teen-girl cartoon on the front of this album shows the two main characters getting into a car accident and carrying a corpse into a ditch before they drive away. "Do you feel all right? Do you feel all right?" croons Aaron Burnham in his classic 1960s boy tenor, tightly harmonized and accentuated by jaggedy-sweet guitar stabs. The music says, "God-damn, yes!" but the lyrics are about people lying wounded by the side of the road.

This sort of meta, arch quality is maybe to be expected, given the background of the three men involved. Josh Smith was last seen turning AC/DC and Judas Priest-distorted riffs into some sort of am-I-serious-or-not mind games with The Fucking Champs. Drummer Jack Matthew comes direct from the great, hard-funk approximaters of Harold Ray Live in Concert, whose live show is probably the best James Brown you can get now that the man himself is gone. And Aaron Burnham, the singer and bass player, plays with the Bay Area's Mothballs, a trash garage combo that is much beloved live and authors of a whole EP's worth of "disabled girl" songs.

So the question becomes, how do you want to listen to this album? Skim on the surface, and it's superlatively twitchy, power pop, full of sweet Eric Carmen hooks and whip smart guitar riffs. "Waves of Summer" sounds, on its surface like a Wilson-brothers approved, surf-sweet anthem, all swooning vocals and cowbell-laced, guitar stabbed backbone. But listen closer and you hear Burnham confessing to existential angst. He's sick, depressed, and unable to enjoy life. Frantic "November Girls" - surely a sly nod to Big Star's two-month-earlier song - feels like a party, but reads like a suicide note. And what do you make of an album whose catchiest Squeeze-pop song, called "Cop Killer" starts out, "It sure feels good in someone else's shoes."

Still, the fact remains that this is one super-fun album, and if you put it on at a party, no one will have to be talked down from the roof because "it's just not worth it anymore, man." (Unless they were going there anyway). Maybe we should take a hint from The Makes Nice and forget about global warming, terrorism and what'll happen to us if we get sick without insurance....or at least put it on the back burner. The music sounds like it's 1965 again, and if things weren't simpler and happier then, you couldn't prove it by me.

By Jennifer Kelly

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