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Cheap Time - Fantastic Explanations (and Similar Situations)

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Artist: Cheap Time

Album: Fantastic Explanations (and Similar Situations)

Label: In the Red

Review date: Nov. 11, 2010

Two years ago, Nashville’s Cheap Time released a debut full-length as impressive, if not as widely noticed, as other recent Tennessee punks Jay Reatard, Reigning Sound and Be Your Own Pet. All these artists have had a knack for hanging sticky choruses on slap-you-around verses. Overall, it’s been the most inspired decade for the Tennessee rock ‘n’ roll since the state invented the stuff.

And strangely enough, none of these hitmakers drew from the region’s deepest well: country-western. Cheap Time lead singer and founding member Jeffrey Novak’s particular sidestep has been to go for a Brit Invasion feel. Their self-titled record’s tumbling bass parts and power-trio tricks make for weighty three-chord songs, and the hooks are delivered with mod sneer. Two years later, they’ve ventured further down that path. That there’s any progress is a surprise coming from the spare-the-subtlety world of In The Red Records. Fortunately, the songs on Fantastic Explanations (and Similar Situations) nudge toward complexity in a way that doesn’t try to be complicated.

Fantastic Explanations plays like Ray Davies’ rock opera phase rather than his classic Kinks albums. There’s as many pretty breaks as raucous build-ups. You’d never call this prog, but it has the feel of the British music that led up to that, when rockers bandied about their desire to progress. The flourishes are well integrated; they have a way of overshadowing the bashing.

As Cheap Time steps forward musically, its talent for a snarled melody sharp as ever, Novak and Co. expose something lacking in other places. Every other lyric here seems to be a kiss-off (“I’d Rather Be Alone,” “Miss Apparent,” “Down the Tube”). It’s as if the songs are wanting for an emotion beyond envy and disappointment. When they throw in a piano riff, they could stand to complement it with a wistful rhyme.

This is still a fun and fast record, showcasing a band with as many ideas as bratty rave-ups. Next time out, they might take a look at the pros with ridiculous hats that co-inhabit their hometown, though, and tell a story. They seem to have something to say.

By Ben Donnelly

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