February 19, 2004

Test Spin: Trans Am

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You can be sure these are troubled times indeed when Trans Am swap their ’80s obsession for a newfound political vehemence. Just as the synth-heavy party grooves of 2002’s TA were far too ironic to be enjoyable, the Bush-bashing on Liberation finds the trio keeping its collective tongue a bit too close to its collective cheek. Liberation returns to some of the themes previously explored on The Surveillance, on which the song titles alone (“Armed Response,” “Home Security”) painted a picture of political paranoia similar to that of this latest offering.

The pinnacle of this overcooked concept is the (hopefully) sarcastic “Uninvited Guest,” with its cut-and-pasted snippets of George Junior’s speeches reorganized into a ludicrous manifesto of imperialism and war. It fails mostly because of its blatancy, sounding more like the after-hours hobby of an NPR engineer than the work of serious musical innovators. Songs like “June,” with its histrionic guitars, hint at the band’s affinity for flamboyant forebears like Van Halen and AC/DC, without realizing any of those bands’ pompous appeal. At the other end of the Trans Am spectrum, “Music for Dogs” aims for New Order but sounds more like an old disaster. There is some redemption in the droning “Pretty Close to the Edge” — its restrained acoustic guitar plucking over a rollicking tom workout — but it’s hardly enough to salvage the album. (Are we supposed to laugh at the siren and missile sounds on “Divine Invasion”?)

As hinted at previously, Trans Am are prone to immerse themselves a bit too deeply into their concepts at the expense of the songs, falling short of the striking potential of early albums like Futureworld and The Red Line. Unfortunately, Liberation is constrained by its own dichotomy — the struggle between its genuine social commentary and its overwrought cheekiness. It appears the Bush administration has claimed yet another casualty.

Archived article by Ben Kupstas