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New Arrivals Popping Up on an Old Scene

May 09, 1997|MIKE BOEHM

*** THE KINETICS "The Kinetics" Mod Lang Records

** 1/2 MEXICO 70 "Imperial Comet Hour" Big Pop

All trends aside, the firestarter that still gets many young rockers out of bed in the morning is the hope that they, too, might come up with a catchy tune and an expressive lyric, all set to a bopping beat, just like the Beatles, the Stones and Dylan used to.

The results may be so much stylistic rehash, but the re-creation in the '90s of the traditional pop-rock song remains both an exacting test of musical talent and a familiar pleasure when done well.

The Kinetics, from San Francisco, and Mexico 70, from Windsor, England, are little-known new arrivals who haven't tired of the old-school pleasures (Mexico 70 plays tonight at the Clipper in Long Beach; the Kinetics have an every-Monday residency this month at the Blue Cafe in Long Beach).

Mexico 70 (named in honor of a long-ago World Cup tournament) mainly jangles its way through wistful, acoustic-flavored, husky-voiced laments about love going sour, but the foursome can pack some punch when it wants to.

The moderate pacing and dynamics, clean playing and steady lyricism of Del Amitri are the parallels that comes most readily to mind during "Imperial Comet Hour," the band's second album, but Mexico 70 occasionally gets up the dander to rock with the rough abandon of early Elvis Costello & the Attractions.

A liquid gleam, a deliciously tear-soaked wallow and an insinuating guitar figure sliced from Bread's "Make It With You" highlight a cover of Tim Hardin's "It'll Never Happen Again," while "Best & Hurst" shows that Mexico 70 can contemplate romantic lows with the high spirits and jaunty pop-cultural allusions of a John Wesley Harding.

"Imperial Comet Hour" is a solid piece of work. It may not have the freshness and spark to shine like Hale-Bopp, but it never fizzles like Kahoutek.

Two members of the Kinetics, singer Brad Davenport and guitarist Xan McCurdy, teamed up a few years ago in the Loved Ones to produce authentically gritty R&B that cast them as young heirs to such pop-aware roots traditionalists as the '80s-vintage Blasters and James Harman Band.

Now, with new bandmates fleshing out the sound with keyboards and horns, Davenport and McCurdy have moved forward chronologically from the roots music of the '50s and early '60s into the post-Beatles pure-pop era of the late '60s and early '70s (at this rate, they'll be playing futuristic techno music by 2010).

"Shine," the opening track on their five-song debut CD, takes those old, down-home R&B sources uptown with a bright, polished horn-driven workout that sounds a lot like Boz Scaggs, circa "Silk Degrees."

The talented Davenport apparently has undergone a grit-removal procedure since his Loved Ones days and now sings in a creamy voice that can verge nearly into lounge-crooner silkiness. Maybe he aims to be a chameleon like Alex Chilton, who also has shifted between rough R&B and winsome pop throughout his career (Mod Lang Records, the Kinetics' indy label, is named for a song Chilton sang with his early '70s pop-rock band, Big Star).

The Kinetics toss musical echoes and allusions into every track, a method that includes embellishing the smooth seduction of "Aw Shucks" with a sonically contrasting but thematically apt quotation from Hendrix's "Foxy Lady." The "Taxman"-like "The Money Tree" shows a tougher, sardonic dimension.

"Wake Up Call," which is produced to sound like an old '60s AM radio relic, appends the skewering tone and debutante's downfall theme of Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone" to a slinky organ and a scratchy guitar straight out of the Zombies' "Time of the Season." The Smithereens may have to kick themselves for not having thought of it first, uh, second.

If you're an experienced lover of pop-rock's golden age, "The Kinetics" is a fun, stylish romp through your record collection. If you're a newcomer to the genre, this entertaining CD shows why the teen spirit of 30 years ago isn't about to fade, no matter how unappetizing the notion that you'll forever be rocking in the shadow of the Baby Boom.

* Mexico 70, the Iron-ons, Buzzbomb and Kindersize play tonight at the Clipper, 3305 Anaheim St., Long Beach. 8:30. $5. (562) 803-0024. The Kinetics play every Monday in May at the Blue Cafe, 210 Promenade, Long Beach. Two sets nightly at 9:30 and 11. $6. (562) 983-7111 (club) or (562) 984-8349 (taped info).

Albums are rated on a scale of * (poor) to **** (excellent), with *** denoting a solid recommendation.

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