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The right time for 'Romance'

By SEAN DALY
Published December 6, 2005


REVIEW: The Lovemakers, Times of Romance

GRADE: A

If it weren't for my reliably prurient mind, I might have completely missed out on one of the best new bands of 2005.

Think the Eurythmics in couples therapy, or maybe Fleetwood Mac in outer space, and you'll get a good idea of New Wave throwbacks the Lovemakers, an Oakland, Calif., trio whose major label debut, Times of Romance, has an appropriately risque album cover.

Cover your eyes, kids: Lead singers and ex-lovers (or so the hype insists) Scott Blonde and Lisa Light are pictured embracing on a sleazy-hotel bed as excitable third wheel Jason Proctor hovers over the young hotties with a flashbulb-popping camera. With slightly angry eyes, the couple (he in his PJs, she in a bikini top) stare right at you, the viewer, either inviting you into their linen party or kicking you out into the cold, lonely night.

Take it from a guy whose desk is a terrain of tottering piles of forgotten CDs: The Lovemakers sure do catch the eye.

Although I'd never bemoan my day job - I write about music for a living and thus have the soft hands of someone who is blissfully helpless in most other facets of life - it's not easy keeping up with the ephemeral players in pop, rock, hip-hop, country and metal. My mailbox spits out about 30 new CDs per week, and I'm lucky if I get around to listening to half of them more than once.

The guilt is crushing, but here's the truth: Sometimes I do judge an album by its cover. At least initially. If you've made a CD in your basement and chicken-scratched the song titles on a Post-It note, there's a good chance I will not be listening to your disc.

That said, by far the best part of my job is discovering - via divine inspiration, dumb luck or naughtier means - the Next Big Thing.

At this spring's Coachella Valley Music Festival in the California desert, the most intense two-day music marathon in the world, I desperately needed to escape the searing Palm Springs heat. So I wandered into a small performance tent and witnessed an hourlong show by Sri Lankan rapper/party girl M.I.A. Of all the 30-some sets I saw that weekend - including those by Coldplay, Nine Inch Nails and Weezer - M.I.A. was the only act called back for an encore. And I was there for the coming-out party - basically because I forgot to bring a hat and sunscreen.

I first listened to country rocker Shooter Jennings because I heard the rebel newcomer was dating that most dangerous of women, Drea de Matteo. I figured a guy like that has to have a death wish - or at least some really cool stories. If he had been dating, say, Hilary Duff, I might never have rescued his disc from the giveaway bin. Now I know that his 2005 debut, Put the "O" Back in Country, is a raucous must-have mix of father Waylon's ornery spirit and Springsteen's road trip poetry.

For me, the Lovemakers' lascivious LP couldn't have appeared at a better time. After a fall spent writing a great deal about golden oldies - Neil Diamond, the Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney - I was craving someone fresh, someone new, someone who couldn't get a senior discount at the movies.

Times of Romance is a battle of the sexy, featuring two singers who aren't sure if they wanna kiss kiss or bang bang. It's kind of like Fleetwood Mac's famously dysfunctional Rumours album, albeit with more sex and keyboard solos but less narcotics and cowbell. Blonde and Light have been playfully vague about their relationship, so there's a real sense of mystery theater in the bickering singers' shtick.

As Blonde and Light spend 12 tracks back-and-forthing about both the sweet and sour sides of romance - from the Duran Duran-ish anthem Prepare for the Fight to the Depeche Modian bitterness of We Should Be Taking Our Clothes Off - Proctor's lush, synthy swirls and thumping digital beats will time-travel you 20 years back to the days when aerodynamic hair was a source of pride.

If the music sounds chilly - every song is lushly layered in electro-dance thumps, bumps and buzz - the human touch comes courtesy of choruses that lodge in your melon and refuse to budge. On the warm courtship duet of Is It Alright?, Blonde (who also plays guitar and sounds like DD's Simon LeBon) and Light (who also plays violin and sounds like Go-Go Belinda Carlisle) trade cascading come-ons amid crashing waves of synth. "Is it all right," she comforts, "if I sneak into your room at night, and banish all the things that make you lonely?" "Are you waiting for the darkness?" he sings invitingly.

It doesn't stay that sweet for long. On the robot funk of Shake That [Expletive], Light hijacks the usual gender roles and tells her man, "You can have my love, take my body" - but only if he does a Chippendales routine for her. His reply is accommodating but cold: "I'm gonna show you what it's all about, when you take me home with you."

On the following Set Me Free, an uptempo dance cut that sounds a bit like the frosty unmelted sibling of Modern English's I Melt With You, he's already cheating on her and she's begging not to care anymore. If you're looking to iPod-test these guys, Shake That [Expletive] or Set Me Free are the songs to buy.

Music critics often feel like Columbus when they "discover" a new band: proud, boastful, but excited to share their bounty with the world. So here you go: Check out the Lovemakers. Times of Romance may be a concept album, but it's intended to be a fun one, complete with a killer club mix coda of Prepare for the Fight.

You can thank me and my dirty little mind later.

-- Sean Daly can be reached at sdaly@sptimes.com or 727 893-8467. His blog is at www.sptimes.com/blogs/popmusic

[Last modified December 5, 2005, 15:31:03]


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