What with everyone from Adult. to No Doubt successfully cracking the ’80s code these days, it certainly can’t be music’s biggest mathematical mystery that adding Gary Numan to (X)tasy and Joy Dividing by the B-52’s equals good times and great oldies. So why do so many musicians insist it’s still enough just to fine-tune another retro-rock equation of Reaganomic revisionism? The formula’s 1-2-3 easy; making it original, as countless throwback hacks have realized, is anything but.
Which is why on TA, the latest LP from Trans Am, the D.C. trio plugs in all the right variables — Atari f/x, Kraftwerk quirks, and beats and bytes nabbed from New Order’s back catalog — but still comes up with nuthin’ but the same ol’ synths. There are MIDI-memorable moments, sure, but unlike the Prima Donnas, the Faint and Adult., all of whom update the genre in smart, subversive ways sonically and/or lyrically, Trans Am simply replicates. There’s nothing to suggest that these guys had any idea what they wanted to do with the music once they figured out the formula, and so the resulting album sounds frustratingly anonymous.
Too bad, ‘cause TA, for all its cliched flaws, is a decent album that could’ve and should’ve been great. Highlights “Party Station,” “Molecules” and “Run With Me” incorporate enthrallingly danceable beats and icy, vocodered vocals — the trio trucks in modes, not moods — that fit smugly/snugly between Duran and Depeche, Gary Numan’s “Cars” and Ocasek’s Cars. Because Trans Am never transcends mere mimicry, however, even with those thoroughly enjoyable tracks you’ll swear you’ve heard it all before.
E-mail Jimmy Draper at email@example.com.