Review: The Like’s “Release Me”

Jul 9, 2010 11:20am

 

The Like started out as a product of children of the industry.  Three teenage girls with famous fathers.  Singer and guitarist, Z. Berg is the daughter of producer Tony Berg.  Drummer, Tennessee Thomas is the daughter of Elvis Costello’s drummer, Pete Thomas.  Former Bassist, Charlotte Froom is the daughter of producer Mitchell Froom.  In 2005, their full-length debut, “Are You Thinking What I’m Thinking?” was released.  It was hard-edged, well-written, tough but feminine power-pop.  For that record, the trio recruited veteran musician (and Prince-associate) Wendy Melvoin to handle production duties, to great success.  The album may not have been on everyone’s players, but it was a solid disc worth finding.  Fast forward five years.  Froom has left the band and has been replaced by Laena Geronimo.  In addition, Annie Monroe has been added on organ.  This new lineup (minus Monroe) recorded “Release Me” in Brooklyn with Mark Ronson, who has developed a very hip distinctive sound combining elements of both old and new.  He has worked with both Amy Winehouse and Lily Allen and released his own highly-praised album, “Version” in 2007.  His retro-cool stamp is all over this record.  His presence is undeniable and immediately evident from the start.  Monroe must’ve been added to the band’s lineup after the album was recorded.  According to the liner notes, on the actual album, Victor Axelrod was on organ duty. The album opens with “Wishing He Was Dead,” and the effective formula immediately hits you in the head.  It ends up sounding like a sixties girl-group met up with a Nuggets-style garage band and started playing in a dusty hipster dive  Fans of Winehouse’s “Back To Black” should find this album especially appealing.  “Wishing He Was Dead” is one of a handful of tracks on this record co-written in part with Phantom Planet-frontman, Alex Greenwald.  While Berg doesn’t sound quite as threatening as maybe Winehouse would, she still manages to put on a menacing angry face on the track as she tears down an ex.  He’s left her jilted, sad and alone while he’s gallivanting around and all she wants is revenge.  “He’s Not A Boy” is the album’s lead single.  It has a very early Beatles vibe.  If you’ve seen the campy black and white video for the track or looked at the band shots in the liner notes, it’s evident that the band members are purposely referencing “A Hard Day’s Night.”  This song is catchy, sassy and jumpy as Berg sings, “He’s not a boy that you can change nor should you want to.”  Fans of music from the early sixties should really find this pleasing.  It’s faux-vintage fun. The title track is next.  The girl-group dynamic is again in place as Berg urges a boy to break up with her, singing, “I wish you knew I’m not the one for you. / You’re not the one for me and I can’t stand it,” later declaring, “Before I break your heart, release me.”  Like the rest of this album, this track is warm and infectious.  These songs may seem deceptively simple, but ultimately, it’s their straight-forward nature that makes them fit into a timeless mold.  A nifty organ line gives “Walk Of Shame” a humorous carnival-esque feeling, giving the song a playful feeling, while at the same time sonically mirroring the lost, confused feeling of coming home at dawn after a long night of partying. “Narcissus In A Red Dress” is next. Penned by Berg and Greenwald, the song targets self-obsessed women who will stab their so-called friends in the back for personal gain.  The game is clique-acceptance.  Perhaps this is a theme for social-climbing “mean girls,” but it also labels its subjects as vacuous followers by rhyming the title with “You’re like all the rest, miss.”  Backed by a James Bond meets Austin Powers, retro-spy-movie arrangement, the song mines some very fertile territory.  It’s like a more pop-minded answer to retro-leaning, left-field bands like Broadcast. “I Can See It In Your Eyes” again pairs the garage rock sound with the girl-group vocal-style and it again brings to mind a warmer, more friendly answer to Winehouse.  It may not quite have the same soul element as her material, but it maintains a similarly nostalgic tone. “Fair Game” adds a punked-out element to the mix, recalling Tennessee Thomas’ father’s early work with Elvis Costello at his most upbeat.  I guess that makes Monroe (and Axelrod) like Steve Nieve, as the organ playfully pogos around Berg’s spiky guitar line.  There’s not a dud on this record, but this track is an obvious highlight.  If this song doesn’t make you want to dance manically, (“There are limbs akimbo, flying wildly. / Just watch out now, don’t get hit!”), you may be doing something wrong in your everyday life that’s hardening your soul.    “Square One” is the first of the three tracks on the record produced by Thomas Brenneck and Homer Steinweiss.  The overall sound remains uniform because Ronson is still involved in the arrangement.  (In fact the entire album is arranged by Ronson, Berg, Thomas, Greenwald, Steinweiss, Brenneck Axelrod and Nick Movshon, thus proving it’s no simple process.) This track plugs along as if covered by a thick layer of film.  It’s pleasantly fuzzy and dusty. Brenneck and Steinweiss helm “In The End,” as well.  It’s the strongest track on the record with the most indelible melody.  Its wonderful tune enhances Berg’s masterful lyrics. “Diaspora or Renaissance. / Blame Mercury or fate or chance, / Changes always come in packs, / Sniffing out your darkened doorsteps.” While this isn’t one of the tracks listed on the cover as a highlight, if you are thinking that you might have interest in this record, this is the track you should seek out first.  “Trouble In Paradise” again brings to mind early Costello in its tone.  The organ plays a big role in this association, as does the word “Paradise,” summoning a reference to “This Year’s Model” and the track “Living In Paradise.” But most of all, it’s Berg’s immediacy which makes the track really burst alive. She sings, “Wait. / Growing up is a sad affair. / You don’t get a chance to prepare, / ‘Til it’s too late and you're broken. / Hey. / I hear the grave is a lonely place. / Just remember the hearts that break. / As you keep sinking lower, lower. / Don’t just let go.”  It takes a master lyricist to balance the dark and the light.  The way Berg puts these moving, dark images against such a bright melody is astonishing.  “Catch Me If You Can” is yet another highlight.  To many, this album’s uniform tone might make each song sound the same at first, but with time each track pops in its own way.  This is another breakup song.  Berg sings to her target. “I’m sorry, I don’t hate you but I don’t love you at all./ So let’s stop pretending” “Don’t Make A Sound” was co-written by Berg and Greenwald and produced by Brenneck and Steinweiss.  The vocal harmonies at the beginning, arranged by Greenwald, give the song a simultaneously haunted and sunny feeling.   Again, in many cases throughout this album, perfection is achieved when the negative and the positive work together.  Many of these songs are sad but they are given a sunny layer.  It’s that achieved equilibrium that makes all the difference. The album closes with a secret track.  It’s a cover of Joe Ivory Hunter’s “Why When Love Is Gone” which was originally popularized by the Isley Brothers.  It’s fitting to close a retro-sounding album with an excellent cover of an authentically retro song.  If you liked “Are You Thinking What I’m Thinking?” then “Release Me” might be a bit of a shock.  These two records couldn’t be more different in tone.  While the former was heavier and more adventurous, this record is more focused, catchier  and ultimately more unique.  Each record has its strengths.  It’s probably a draw as to which album is better.  One thing is for sure, with the help of Mark Ronson and Alex Greenwald, the Like have created one of the coolest albums of the moment.  My guess is that it’ll be something you might like, too!

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