Everybody's A Rock Star Tonight
By: Eric Greenwood
Despite a few mildly catchy melodies, Chris Barber's wordy, nerdy pop songs don't really leave you wanting for more. His band, Spiv, sounds like an ill-advised amalgam of Squeeze, Cheap Trick, and the Barenaked Ladies, and if you think that looks bad on paper it's even worse on headphones. The hooks are forced and the lyrics are too clever by half ("Seedy Release"- get it, CD release). Underneath Ken Stringfellow's (Posies) glistening production, there might be a trace of rock and roll, but on the surface Spiv's songs are lightweight and silly. Thankfully, this is an EP, so I only had to sit through four of them.
"Everybody's A Rock Star Tonight" has an identifiable hook and a power pop groundwork, but Chris Barber's vocals are so loud in the mix that they squash any impact the song may have had. The lyrics are decidedly hokey: "Given up on my showcase slot showing on MTV/so I decided to give my songs away for free on MP3/I got my fifteen minutes coming to me." Referencing current events is always a little embarrassing. It's like when bands cover a song that's still on the radio. You just don't do it. And that's the good news. "Beatley" not so cleverly tries to emulate, surprise, The Beatles, but, again, Barber's voice, adopting a flat monotone, mucks up a simple, unassuming melody. Why bands even bother trying to imitate The Beatles is beyond me. It's just a recipe for failure.
Spiv's music is all over the map- from power pop to maudlin rock to corny white boy rap- but it fails to establish any roots. If you don't securely nail down any of the support beams, your house will fall in, and that's exactly what Spiv has neglected to do here. Dabbling frivolously in various genres can work if there's some sort of connection or consistent factor, but Spiv offers only a loosely goofy demeanor to link its songs. If you're into jokey pop, then Spiv might be up your alley, but the songs aren't even showy enough to woo the Barenaked Ladies crowd.
"Seedy Release" is a faux-ballad about the music industry. Barber's commentary isn't exactly scathing or insightful- it's just kind of sort of half-interesting. And the play on words is pretty cheap. "VIP's Of The Street" is the EP's most embarrassing moment, however. The other two bandmates should have piped up and warned Barber against a rap parody. They were obviously compliant, though, because both bass and drums feature prominently in the atmospheric disco mix. Barber's approach to rapping is low-key; he's supposed to sound smooth, I guess. It's just not funny because it's been done to death and there's nothing new in the joke. At least the Barenaked Ladies were so silly in "One Week" you could almost see how the masses latched onto it. When listening to a band causes me to defend the Barenaked Ladies something is very wrong, so I will stop right now.