If the Strokes consisted of five Japanese women instead of five New York guys, they might sound something like Mean Machine.
Key word: might.
Play the Strokes’ Is This It alongside Mean Machine’s Cream, and the differences are pretty obvious.
The Strokes are decidedly lo-fi, big on affecting a cool-than-you attitude. Mean Machine is definitely hi-fi, dirty and grungey and bittersweet.
Between the two groups, there’s some pretty obvious Velvet Underground/Television/Ramones worship going on. Like the Strokes, Mean Machine looks to early punk for inspiration.
But with some heavy J-pop credentials in its midst — namely, Yuki from the defunct Judy and Mary and solo artist Chara — the band’s messier tendencies are tempered by a pop aesthetic.
Clear, distinct melodies and so-basic-it’s-almost-primitive structures drive the band’s gloriously sloppy sound.
“Suuhaa”, named after the breathing exercise in Lamaze, is so simple, it borders on transparent. But after repeated listens, it turns out to be rather addictive.
“Amai Candy” lays heavy on the flange pedal, giving the song a rousing conclusion. “Lucky Star” merges L7 simplicity with a hip-hop groove.
“My Little Bag” has an infectous chorus with some pretty awful lyrics. “My little bag from my grandma/My little bag comes from Heaven”. Who said rock music had to be profound anyway?
Track after track, Mean Machine hits listeners with one wonderfully primitive song after another. After a while, Cream sounds homogenous but in a good way.
Mean Machine has its eye squarely on making the dumbest of rock music possible, just the way Phil Spector would have liked it.1 This is truly it.
1 Rock music history lesson: When Phil Spector showed someone a new track he just written, he asked, “Is it dumb enough?” meaning, “Is it simple and catchy enough?” Don’t take it as a knock.