Californian quartet The Like have moved on since their 2005 debut album Are You Thinking What I'm Thinking
. With new bass and organ players in tow, original members Z Berg and Tenessee Thomas return after a five year break with a more polished pop sound, but having lost none of their 60s sensibilities, as demonstrated on songs like title track "Release Me" and "Wishing He Was Dead".
Sorry, I'm confused: is this the same The Like that 'burst' upon the scene a couple of years ago with a folksy, elfin look that borrowed extensively from Joanna Newsom? Now they come replete with polka dots, produced by Mark ‘Amy Winehouse’ Ronson with a handful of Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings in their backing band, sounding for all the world like an over-pampered version of Brighton’s own Pipettes Mk I? Whoa. Even for a bunch of rich kids with from LA, the opportunism is shameless.
Some would argue The Go-Go’s, or perhaps (snigger) The Supremes. Yet the title-track of The Like’s second album is pure Tracey Ullman, down to the clipped guitars and Farfisa organ, while opening track Wishing He Was Dead is absolutely The Pipettes’ Judy, only trying way too hard. "If I could kick his head in... I’d be satisfied / If I could smack some sense into his senses / I’d be smack some sense into his sense / I might feel alright," simpers Elizabeth ‘Z’ Berg, trying to be schoolgirl tough, but coming across like Veruca Salt, grown-up and even more obnoxious. Walk of Shame, meanwhile, seems to be a song written about avoiding the paparazzi after a late night out on the way back to their famous dads’ houses. Yeah, something we can all relate to.
It’s all very MTV Cribs. But the galling thing is that this album, music-wise, is quite exemplary. Ronson sure knows his stuff, pitching Release Me somewhere around the killer second Blondie album and his own production on Winehouse’s Back to Black. And there’s no faulting those Dap-Kings, as smooth and impeccable and soulful and full of hidden musical motifs as ever.
The problem is the vocals, and the lyrics, and the general jaw-dropping effrontery of The Like. On Narcissus in a Red Dress, ‘Z’ sounds like Courtney Love trying to sing soulfully – not a good fit, I’m sure you’ll agree. The vocals on In the End feel folksy, which is just plain weird. Much better is Fair Game and the catchy, upbeat Trouble in Paradise, where the vocals don’t overly intrude despite the bad English accents, both of which could have been lifted straight from one of drummer Tennessee Thomas’ dad Pete’s day job as drummer with Elvis Costello’s Attractions.
It’s all very Wendy James, actually. Yes, that desperate, but somehow still an album that you return to, again and again, if only to hear how LA’s Beautiful People live. But ultimately it’s so much less than it could have been, given the talent involved. Perhaps now Ronson and the Dap-Kings can focus on convincing Winehouse to record another album one of these decades?
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