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CD Review: The 88 – Over and Over

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The 88’s Over and Over is everything I never thought I’d find in a pop rock band’s CD again in my lifetime. Such a bold statement, right? It’s true.

When they performed “All ’cause of You” on The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson in January, I was there. Well, not there exactly, but I tuned in. And I was glad I had. I’d been listening to them for a couple weeks prior to their appearance, but nothing prepared me for how much I was going to like them.

That’s the thing about The 88 – they’re so very likable. I don’t normally heap praise on today’s pop rockers. I’m something of a closeted music snob and rarely venture out of my cozy little Blues niche. However, the 88 earned an exemption largely because they’re damn good. Good enough that their appeal transcends any generation gap that might exist between my kids and I; gaps that might exist between my friends’ standard music tastes and mine.

Over and Over is the perfect collection in that it combines instant pop hits with hook-laden, well-written songs evoking their classic rock influences of The Beatles, The Kinks, and more than hinting at a background rich in the music anyone over the age of 30 should have listened to while growing up. For good reason, too. Founding members Keith Slettedahl and Adam Merrin are deeply rooted in the music of yesterday. But, instead of copying the hits of the past, they pay homage to them by running the music through the shower, dressing it up in new clothes, and offering it up to the masses of today with catchy lyrics and wonderfully crafted instrumentation. Then there’s Slettedahl’s voice and the backing vocals – absolute perfection. Slettedahl has that retro sound down pat, but he owns every word, every note. And, by the time he’s halfway through a single song, he owns us.

Most CDs beg for deconstruction and cries of protest over the inclusion of certain tracks. Not so with Over and Over. Each song belongs exactly where it is. Every note has been lovingly nurtured and developed for placement on this collection of stunning pop rock goodness.

As previously mentioned, this is music I can share with my kids. I’ve also played it for my over-30 friends and nary a one has looked at me in askance. Everyone gets it. Everyone. That’s a rarity in today’s music. But that’s part of this band’s charm, and it’ll play a large part in their ultimate success. They will succeed – wildly. The 88’s already garnered a great deal of attention from the late night talk show hosts, appearing on the aforementioned Late Late Show, Carson Daly, and Jimmy Kimmel, as well as having songs from Over and Over featured in movies and on television.

“Hide Another Mistake” kicks off the disc with energetic glee and instantly commands respect. Merrin’s slightly psychedelic keys alternate with more straightforward rock boardwork. Mark Vasapolli’s drums set the perfect beat along with Carlos Torres’ bass line. The harmonies are a total delight. And, the dual guitars of Slettedahl and Brandon Jay blend perfectly, avoiding that oft-grating tendency some bands have of guitarists trying to outplay each other for the spotlight. The band continues the ability to layer their talents on all the CD’s subsequent tracks.

I don’t know that I could pick a single “favorite” song from the 12 tracks on Over and Over, simply because I like them all. I enjoy them for different reasons, and I especially enjoy the breadth of their scope as a whole. If pressed, though, I’d eagerly point to “Coming Home” and “You Belong To Me” as the songs with the most personal appeal. Personal because they tap into a visceral longing, or perhaps, because there’s a certain timelessness to them. “You Belong” is at once reminiscent of the tentative first love of one’s high school days (“waiting in the wings for my big chance / but I would only stare at my shoes”), but also reflective of one’s ongoing struggle to find the right person, and never getting it quite right (“but I’m lazy and I’ll pull you down / where you won’t want to be”). There’s also something so plaintive about the starkness of Keith Slettedahl’s vocals and acoustic guitar, which pull at the ol’ heartstrings.

That said, I hesitate to limit myself to just a couple songs. Repeated listens don’t make it any easier, either. The band’s done such a good job, you’ll want to savor each song – over and over, if you will. And with that, I declare the title of the CD masterfully and aptly chosen.

The 88
Over and Over

  1. Hide Another Mistake
  2. All ‘cause Of You
  3. Nobody Cares
  4. Bowls
  5. Head Cut Off
  6. Battle Scar
  7. Coming Home
  8. You Belong To Me
  9. Haunt You
  10. Jesus Is Good
  11. Everybody Loves Me
  12. Not Enough

To borrow from “All ‘cause of You”, I’ve been “telling everyone I know ‘bout you”. I’ll keep on telling them until they get it. And they will. Do yourself a big favor and buy this CD before you end up the last person on earth to do so.

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About Joan Hunt