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ALBUM REVIEW / POP

Sending Out Pop Signals Via 'Satellite'

April 24, 1998|MIKE BOEHM

*** 1/2 TEEN HEROES

"Audio Satellite"

Glue Factory

In one of alterna-rock's first and greatest moments, Jonathan Richman rode through the Boston night in the Modern Lovers' 1972 vintage "Roadrunner," his world a lonely place but his spirit at least momentarily set free thanks to "the power of the AM sound" blasting over his car radio.

Teen Heroes may have grown up cruising the 5 and the 405 freeways, but their sound is redolent of Route 128 ringing Boston, where, unlike Orange County, bands that don't play punk or ska have a chance of being properly appreciated. If this enchanting debut CD doesn't muster a big home-county audience, these guys should pack up (along with such other unfairly overlooked East Coast-sounding locals as Lunar Rover and Supernovice) and hum the Standells' "Dirty Water" all the way to the banks of the River Charles.

Singer Jesse Wilder's earnest, nasal-chesty voice sounds like a less foggy Evan Dando (of Boston's Lemonheads), and the sonic construct of "Audio Satellite" picks up where the Boston-based Pixies left off, with dense guitars surging and soaring, jangly ones bouncing, and squiggly synthesizers and fuzz guitars buzzing (when those squiggles straighten out they sound like the Cars, from you-know-where). With a sound so full of Beantown, one begins to wonder whether anybody in Teen Heroes can pronounce his r's.

There are a few California parallels too. A similar combination of cotton candy pop melody with guitars that play rough worked for Weezer, but Teen Heroes' songs project a disarming romantic innocence compared to Weezer's more jaded outlook. Pop often plays well when songs portray youth having its urgent hopes for true love or true anything bruised, but with the knowledge gained less bitter than bittersweet. That's exactly where Teen Heroes live.

Like all pure pop at this late date, "Audio Satellite" is locked in an orbit mapped out long ago. In addition to the obvious Pixies and Cars borrowings, you get echoes of everything from Joe Meek's "Telstar" (the original audio satellite song) to Elton John's "Funeral for a Friend" and the Pretenders' "Mystery Achievement."

Wilder's emotionally rewarding if vocally under-qualified stretches for falsetto notes beyond his reach bring to mind Todd Rundgren, Elvis Costello and Joe Jackson. The lyrics are artless compared to the more crafted school of pure pop currently well-represented by Ben Folds Five, but for now Teen Heroes can get by on heart-on-sleeve simplicity and directness.

Anyone not drawn in by the yearning of such fetching highlights as "Missing Piece" or the enchanting "Neapolitan Girl" has a heart of stone--and ears to match.

*

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

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