Wednesday, December 2, 1998

Glam'n' Grit

Posted By on Wed, Dec 2, 1998 at 12:00 AM

Wood, the second album by New York City band Johnny Society, sounds like a classic. Not just good, mind you, but classic: from the jingle-jangle onslaught of the first track, "Everyday," through "Writers," the album's epic conclusion, the rich, expertly orchestrated songs on Wood have the easy familiarity of radio favorites a couple of generations old. It's not that Johnny Society sounds retro, or retreads ground covered before and better by the bands it references; it's just that the album -- absent all of the fancy-schmancy computer muzik we take for granted these days -- is thrillingly real and alive, and it reminds you what was so good about straight-ahead rock in the first place.

Much as Teenage Fanclub folds the sunny harmonies of the Beach Boys and Raspberries into its sound, so Johnny Society assimilates T-Rex-style keyboards and cascading choruses into compositions uniquely its own. You can save your sequins for another band, however. Johnny Society songwriter and presiding genius Kenny Siegal is no one-trick pony. Though he owes a debt to glam, Siegal steals some ideas from Creedence Clearwater Revival for "(Soul) Invite Me" and "Weigh It Down" (a duet with coffeehouse folk hero Chris Whitley), late Beatles for "Crawling Under My Skin," and he puts the Byrds and King Crimson to work for his sound, as well.

Moreover, with his muscular guitar and sandpapery, take-no-prisoners vocals, Siegal doesn't seem as though he has much patience for fey posturing, anyway. Strip away the accomplished band, the instrumental variety and Siegal's sophisticated arrangements and dazzling vocal melodies, and Johnny Society is the most hard-working, grittiest, best garage band this side of the '70s. Wood is a welcome refresher course in the pleasures of heart-pounding rock.

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