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Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2002

HIGH NOTES

NEW RELEASE

Ivy: "Guestroom"


Before Adam Schlesinger penned the catchy title song to Tom Hanks' directorial debut, "That Thing You Do," and formed the excellent power-pop band Fountains of Wayne with Chris Collingwood, he was the impetus behind Ivy, the New Jersey trio that pioneered the French pops revival on the U.S. East Coast. And while it helps the band's image that it's fronted by a female vocalist, Dominique Durand, who really is from France, it's the songwriting chops of Schlesinger and drummer Andy Chase that makes Ivy more than the sum of its augmented fourths and major sevenths.

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So it initially came as a letdown to learn that their new album, "Guestroom," is all covers. The feeling of disappointment, however, only lasts about 30 seconds into the first cut, The Cure's "Let's Go to Bed." Once Chase's muscular drumming and Schlesinger's pneumatic bass lift Durand into the cushy down of the chorus, you're hooked. Given the trio's median age and musical predilections, it isn't surprising that most of the songs hail from the guitar pop movement of the '80s.

If I hadn't lived through the decade myself, I might have sworn, based on this album, that it was a time of infinite optimism; but, then, that's how nostalgia works. Schlesinger's spare arrangements allow Durand to carry the melodies by herself and leave lots of air around the instruments. Ivy's version of The Go-Betweens' already irresistible "Streets of Your Town" is even lighter than the original, and House of Love's "I Don't Know Why I Love You," built around a sturdy acoustic guitar pattern, bounces around like a party in the basement when the folks are away.

In this context, Steely Dan's luscious "Only a Fool Would Say That" from 1972 and a dark, David Lynchian take on The Ronettes' early '60s hit "Be My Baby" might qualify as archaeology. I'm not sure what Serge Gainsbourg's "L'anamour" qualifies as, except maybe a reminder that Ivy was supposed to make New Jersey safe for French songs. I'm also not sure whether New Jersey deserves them.



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