I go back and forth on this group. When my friend Frank suggested I listen to their song "Cruel Girl," I liked it instantly, and their other songs sounded so good (at least in 30-sec0ond preview bites), I decided to download the whole album. Just the sort of catchy, melodic pop I tend to like.
Then I googled around and learned a little more about the band. It's really two guys, Seth Swirsky and Mike Ruekberg, a pair of veteran L.A. songwriters/session men. (Mike's the one with the glasses; I'm a sucker for rockers in glasses.) I dig the fact that they've bonded over their love of classic pop love songs, but somehow it troubles me that these guys are seasoned pros and not some callow kids. Maybe it's because these songs celebrate the kind of exuberant over-the-top love that only adolescents believe in (and frankly, these days even adolescents seem to know better). These songs just don't seem to come from the heart -- but hey, I could be wrong.
I can't help being pulled in by well-crafted lyrics like these: "She’s stuck in my head like a beautiful song /I’ve tried to fight it, now I’m singing along," or "She holds my attention, she breaks my resolve / She poses more problems than I’ll ever solve." If anybody ever described me with phrases like "her impossible hair, her curious mouth /She’s a jigsaw puzzle that I can’t figure out" I'd be damn flattered. But does it really say anything new about love? (Am I asking too much?)
And it's such a lusciously produced track -- a dense tapestry of jangly guitar and floaty vocal harmonies -- there isn't a whiff of anything neurotic about this guy's obsession (just compare it to the tantalizing sickness of Elvis Costello's "I Want You" or the Police's "Every Breath You Take"). Sorry, but I can't help longing for a little modern neurosis. Even Marshall Crenshaw lets a little neurosis seep in under the surface of his retro pop songs.
Then there's the question of borrowed riffs. The guitar intro to this song gets me all primed to hear the Byrd's "Mr. Tambourine Man" -- I feel a flicker of disappointment when it isn't. Call it "homage" if you like, but the echoes of other artists on this album end up just distracting me -- the Buckinghams and the Beatles and the Association and the Lovin' Spoonful all dance through the Red Button's sound. They even throw in some Herb Alpert-style horns here and there. The result sounds great -- but are they creatively re-using tried-and-true pop elements, or triggering a knee-jerk aural response by recyling familiar riffs?
And yet, and yet, and yet -- am I too jaded? This is an incredibly sunny, tuneful number, and it's stuck now in my head good and proper. Like the singer croons so earnestly in the bridge, "I was hoping to use my head today / For anything else instead today / But there’s only room for her." I can't get this happy tune out of my head, either. For that alone, the Red Button deserve a high-five.