There hasn't been a Nirvana-level breakout act in the first half of the '00s, but there have still been some similarities in the way pop trends have developed. Three years ago, music magazines trumpeted "Rock is back," thanks to the neo-garage and new-rock underground of The White Stripes and The Strokes, and last year, the hot story was how the left-field success of Franz Ferdinand and Modest Mouse had left radio as wide open to unusual new music as it had been in the early '90s, when even The Flaming Lips scored a hit. Now, just as in the '90s—and really, every rock era since the late '60s—major labels are scrambling to find young bands capable of converting wild sounds into something tamer, easier to understand, and potentially more marketable.
The most suspicious of the new corporate wave is The Click Five, a Boston quintet that's opened for Ashlee Simpson and Backstreet Boys, even though its own music more closely resembles Fountains Of Wayne. (And no wonder: FoW's Adam Schlesinger wrote The Click Five's hit single "Just The Girl.") The band's debut album, Greetings From Imrie House, sports 11 muscular, oil-slicked power-pop tracks, custom-made for teenage girls inclined to swoon over the kind of shaggy-haired boys who'd rhyme "memories" with "breeze in the trees." There's a place in this world for prefab pop, and for the kind of professional-grade craftsmanship The Click Five displays on songs like the booming "Catch Your Wave," the synth-massaged "Pop Princess," and the "Hey, remember the '80s?" cover of Thompson Twins' "Lies." But the virtues of precision timing don't make this enterprise any less creepy. When the thick chords and sugary melodies of rock's most enduring cult genre can be reproduced so easily and soullessly, it's enough to make any Cheap Trick fan shudder.
Chicago's OK Go fares a lot better on its second major-label release, Oh No. The Pixies/ Queen/Cars pastiche of the band's self-titled debut meets the crunchy dance-rock of recent genre saviors Hot Hot Heat and The Hives. And while pounding party songs like "Do What You Want" and "Here It Goes Again" might've sounded more revelatory a couple of years ago, their furious rhythms and frenzied performances will still make people drive a little faster years from now. Too much of Oh No comes out thin and flavorless, but bandleader Damian Kulash clearly has an artist's sensibility lagging just behind his commercial savvy. OK Go is cashing in on the musical trends of the moment, but the sublime abrasion of the album-closing "The House Wins" indicates that Kulash and company may be luring listeners in just so they can slit their throats.
No such chicanery appears to be on the minds of The Like's three members: bassist Charlotte Froom (daughter of producer Mitchell Froom), drummer Tennessee Thomas (daughter of drummer Pete Thomas) and singer-songwriter Z. Berg (daughter of industry bigwig Tony Berg). Their connections may have gotten them a major-label release for their debut album, Are You Thinking What I'm Thinking?, and may have gotten the album co-produced by Prince cohort Wendy Melvoin and goth-rock stalwart Alan Moulder. But Berg's songs would be reasonably strong even without the sonic wish-fulfillment money brings. The Like sounds like the work of women who came of age in the '90s, listening to a lot of Lush and Letters To Cleo. The latter influence drives songs like "June Gloom" too far into the realm of bombast, but the dreamy lilt of "You Bring Me Down" and the bluesy undertones of "(So I'll Sit Here) Waiting" keep Are You Thinking from becoming another arena-ready youth-culture cash-in. Too much of The Like's personality is borrowed, but it is, nonetheless, a personality.