by Fred Mills
Married Alive is only the Mood Elevator’s second album in four years, but the band hasn’t been exactly invisible. While internal logistics dictated that ME go into hiatus mode after successfully touring behind 1999’s Listen Up!, chief instigator Chris Plum assembled a new version of the group a few years later, additionally enlisting his old school chum Brendan Benson. And when Benson needed a backing band to help promote his 2002 record Lapalco he simply drafted his fellow Elevators and dubbed ’em The Well Fed Boys. So, then, the latest incarnation of ME comes on strong, culling the best of all possible talents from two strong musical songwriting personalities — Plum and Benson — and their intuitive cohorts.
The results differ significantly from Benson’s own critically feted records — less Beatles/Big Star, more Cars/Weezer — and while a few tunes fall flat, the bulk of the material holds up. One of the best cuts is the Plum-Benson composition “Anglophile,” which unfolds amid delicate piano filigrees then, in a wash of synth and crashing guitars, turns grandly symphonic. Nagging New Wave damage (too many synth washes can turn cheesy, in that annoying Weezercentric way) is a bit of a downer, and Plum’s vocals occasionally turn distractingly bellicose. But overall the album’s a hook-fiend’s delight. From the louder ’n’ faster, insanely catchy “Long Hard Look” to the comparative mellow, pure poppery of “Everything’s In Place,” Married Alive should be required listening for any serious student of rock ’n’ roll.
Did someone say “student”? Word recently reached these ears that Plum’s day gig is assistant principal for a local charter school, and if the thought of, say, Guided By Voices’ Robert Pollard corrupting America’s youth while he was still a grade school teacher gave one pause, imagine what a bona fide administrator could do with our kids’ still-malleable minds: “OK, the reason I’ve called this assembly is twofold. One, to weed out troublemakers I’m officially banning the campus chapter of Youth for George W. Bush. Secondly, we have a new school anthem, so repeat after me: Please allow me to introduce myself, I’m a man of wealth and taste …” Hey — it could happen!
E-mail Fred Mills at firstname.lastname@example.org.