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The Carlsonics - The Carlsonics

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Artist: The Carlsonics

Album: The Carlsonics

Label: Arena Rock

Review date: Aug. 27, 2003

Not So Funhouse

Lots of bands emulate the Stooges, but the Carlsonics have taken hero-worship to a whole new level. In addition to sounding a lot like the Detroit demons circa their self-titled debut, the Washington, D.C. natives seemingly decided to plan their career path around the tumultuous history of the Stooges as well. Consider the parallels: both bands built their reputations on spectacular and often out-of-control live shows. Both were lead by charismatic frontmen who received most of the press, leaving the talented instrumentalists in the shadows. And now, the Carlsonics have recorded a debut album with a famous but incongruous rock veteran that, while fun, fails to capture the manic spontaneity of their live show.

The Carlsonics’ John Cale is Archie Moore, formerly of Velocity Girl and the Heartworms. He’s a talented musician, but an odd choice to produce a balls-out rock album. His paint-within-the-lines production restrains the band; the vocals in particular are mixed low and uncharacteristically subdued. He does a better job on the guitars, but the overall sound is dull and lacks personality.

Admittedly, a recording not measuring up to a live performance is somewhat of a given. But it’s more of a problem for a straight-out rock band like the Carlsonics, whose impact relies on dynamics (which don’t translate well to tape) and a tight performance (which simply doesn’t seem impressive on a recording), rather than on inventive songwriting. Only the snarling “Fucked Up and Out of Line” and “I Dig the Bushwack” manage to retain their fist-pumping qualities. The rest of the songs come off as rote and perfunctory. This recording seems more like a souvenir of the Carlsonics’ live show than an album that could stand on its own.

So last week, I gave The Carlsonics the ultimate rock album test. On the way to work, I took a detour through one of Richmond’s ritziest neighborhoods. My ’97 Ford Escort hatchback mingled with BMWs and Mercedes ostentatiously making their way through the 8 a.m. rush hour traffic. I rolled the windows down and turned the volume way up. But instead of feeling like a badass, the way great rock music should make you feel, all I could think was, “That snare drum sounds really weird.” The vocals are mixed so low that when I sang along, I could hear every one of my off-key notes. I didn’t even get pulled over for causing a public nuisance. My conclusion: the album doesn't rock. It is the sound of a great band being totally intimidated by the recording studio. But hopefully, the Carlsonic’s next album will be their Funhouse. I’ll even lend them my saxophone.

By Nick Ammerman

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