A few beats into the title track of American Hi-Fi's The Art of Losing (Island), and I was payin' attention. "That's Ant Music," I said to myself, as drummer Brian Nolan did the ol' soft shoe just before the whole group started bashing into full pop punkery. By the time the band got to its Ramones/Sham 69 chorus and Kim Wilde "Kids In America" fadeout, I was happily perplexed and ready to follow these boisterers into alterna-pop perdition.
There's plenty to like about this disc, the band's sophomore studio effort. I hear fresh Foo Fighters in cuts like "Beautiful Disaster" and "This Is The Sound," though singer/songwriter Stacy Jones is packed with much more adolescent spleen (insert compulsory Green Day reference here!) than Big Foo Dave Grohl. I dig the pop-nerdy way Jones lists his favorite records ("My Bloody Valentine, The Pixies, Cheap Trick and Back In Black") as he asks for 'em back from his OCD ex-girlfriend in "The Breakup Song," plus the retro way he compliments his "Built for Speed" lover. The results may not be as laff-out-loud loutish as the boys in Bowling for Soup perhaps, but they're almost as catchy - and still plenty droll. Could do without the half-parodic white rapper misogyny in "Nothing Left To Lose," but the winking swipe from J. Geils' "Centerfold" almost makes up for it.
With all the attention being paid to the neo-garageists, there's been a ton of releases in the past six months devoted to zippy power chordery. American Hi-Fi pull ahead of the pack by sneaking sly history-of-rock guitar moves into their insistently memorable pop tunes. "I'm not cool, and I'll never be," singer Jones whines in the opening cut. Listening to him recall Adam Ant and Jonathan Richman, you can't help thinking he's right.
Coolness is overrated, though; a good hook is eternal.