You’ve heard it before, that Ronettes’ drum, bass and snare pound of “Be My Baby” fame that oh so many reverb-drenched, garage revivalists such as the Dum Dum Girls and their ilk have decided to cut and paste into their tracks, but this time, it’s different. The cooing of female singers suggests a misty-eyed ballad of an unspectacular order, but bolting unexpectedly from the mix rises a male croon, with a lisp.
The Hunx and His Punx’s debut full-length album, Too Young To Be In Love (released on Hardly Art Records), ain’t your typical record. Though the name suggests both the snarling bite of working-class subcultures and beefcake cuties, the band plays like a saccharine-sweet, teeny-bopper high-school-prom soundtrack produced by John Waters. This time around, the punx have been replaced by punkettes, an all-girl backing group that adds bubblegum goodness to the work (produced and recorded by ex Richard Hell & the Voidoids guitarist Ivan Julian ). The end result is a good-time rock n’ roll dance party that’s not only fun, but fabulous as well.
Opener “Lover’s Lane” is a teen tragedy in the vein of the Shangri-La’s “Leader of the Pack,” juxtaposing the loss of the loved one with the memory of how good he was in bed. “He’s Coming Back” is a Leslie Gore-esque foot shuffle featuring a buoyant organ while “Tonite Tonite” is a yearning ditty driven by oohs and ahs. Though the album cuddles with pop hooks and swings, it still remains faithful to half of its moniker with “Bad Boy,” a romance gone bad exploding with squealing guitars and ghoulish back-up harmonies.
Seth Bogart (the Hunx in the matter) is an unabashed horn dog as he’s proven in the band’s first record, Gay Singles (an anthology of early hits), but this time around he’s shown a softer side and wider emotional spectrum instead of just rehashing his promiscuity. While “The Curse of Being Young” is a testament to angst-filled, teenage heartbreak and the album’s title tearjerker track reaches the apex of pain with the final chorus chanting, “Nothing can mend/My teenage heart again,” “Keep Away From Johnny” is cautionary when it comes to treading the regions of the heart. The closer, “Blow Me Way,” is a dreamy ballad that ties the whole experience together with the soulful longing for the other.
The gay narrative surrounding the record is a fascinating ideological stance and cultural statement. At first glance, it can be appreciated as the performance of campy dominant values of rose-tinted girl groups concerning the total devotion to the loved one. In a second look, though, it subverts masculine codes by juxtaposing the male voice with a feminine role and traits (the lisp, the high-pitched register and thematic texts). The overtly homosexual text is an enjoyable pastiche of 60’s pop but simultaneously criticizes political correctness and macho-wacho rock ‘n’ roll.
Though girl group at heart, the aesthetic angle for the album is undoubtedly punk in execution and performance. Guitars and drums are recorded in lo-fi as a means to showcase the true talent and pomp of the record, which are the vocals that cut through the mix and carry the weight of the songs. Though vocal melodies and harmonies sport a hint of distorted grain, overall production shies away from the orchestral compositions à la Phil Spector’s Wall-of-Sound wonder. The stripped-down sound ties the record together very well, but at times might sound a tad empty and dry, though the band quickly fills these voids with syrupy-sweet riffs.
Bogart and the bunch have certainly found their voice in the modern-rock arena with this record, giving a cohesive and consistent sound to their art. Where most modern garage bands tend to be hermetic, suffocating and obfuscating their tracks with reverb in the manner of The Jesus and Mary Chain, Hunx and His Punx clarifies the joy and exuberance of catchy melodies and good time rock ‘n’ roll. Too Young To Be In Love is a solid, danceable hip-shaker of an album (though a bit on the short side, clocking in at 20 minutes), but don’t confuse kitsch with crap, because behind the stereotypical construction of gay identities lies a succession of tracks dealing with heartbreak, joy, pain and love. Both celebratory and melancholic—don’t be fooled—Hunx is the real deal.