Meet the Real You

Charles Taylor reviews Noise Addict's album "Meet The Real You".

Published June 1, 1996 7:00PM (EDT)

Almost all young rockers, simply because of their age, face the burden of dealing with people my age (34) or older who claim they don't pay attention to pop music anymore and then go on to dismiss all current pop as rubbish. If nothing else, "Meet the Real You" (Grand Royal), the new album from the Australian teenage band Noise Addict, is an affront to that sensibility.
Led by 17-year-old singer/songwriter/guitarist Ben Lee, and comprising drummer Saul Smith, bassist Daniel Kohn and guitarist Romy Hoffman, Noise Addict play in a way that suggests that Harold Bloom's phrase "the anxiety of influence" means nothing to them. "Meet the Real You" is square in the tradition of fuzzy, raucous garage pop. You feel that the band are thrilled to be making this noise, but you also feel their conviction that the noise you come up with for yourself is the only one worth making. "10,000 kids with guitars, all in a world of their own," Lee sings on the album's opening track, "Body Scabs & Bizzos," and he's defining a pop utopia. Just think of it: an army of kids in their bedrooms, noodling on their used or hand-me-down guitars, listening over and over to treasured records, united by the feelings they don't dare to hope anyone else shares, the agony (and glory) of being an outcast, the wish for (and rejection of) acceptance. "Meet the Real You" is propelled by an open good humor, by bracing (but never arrogant) confidence and by a serious (but never earnest) dedication to fun. Even the requisite teen lament "16" isn't without a lightly self-mocking humor ("I feel had/Where's the reckless spirit I'm supposed to have?").
Lee is brethren to such genuinely romantic pop oddballs as Jonathan Richman, Alex Chilton and Brian Wilson. But while the poignancy and occasional creepiness of those performers comes from the fact that they're grown men singing in a teen language, Lee is a teenager. Coming from him and Noise Addict, tales of teen love and longing have the plain-talk quality of confessional songwriting, but without a trace of self-absorption. "I'll be the blemish in an otherwise perfected place/You're perfect, you don't matter," he sings in one number, with almost palpable relief at being an odd duck.
And on the album's finest number, "Exorcism Baby," Lee confronts the strangeness of being an odd duck to the older generations of rock fans who are so sure nothing could ever top their heyday. "Don't take that tone of voice with me, young man," he imagines someone telling him, and the weariness in his voice conveys that he knows what is coming: "Get yourself every Beatles LP today/then compare them to the Band." Starting with the crummy condescension that no rock generation has been able to resist dumping on the next, the song becomes a laundry list of complaints. The heavy songs are in tatters, vinyl is dead, "no one loves music anymore/and no one has style anymore." And suddenly, veering into the chorus, the song sprouts wings. The band digs in, and Lee, singing as if he were daring to utter his deepest, most secret wish to a girl he loved, reveals an ambition that might sound simple if it weren't for the ache in his voice: "And I know/for all my tears/I'll write a song/I'll have a band/that when I die/someone will care/someone will care."
At the Boston show in their current tour, Noise Addict made that promise seem like a safe bet. Lee had just finished singing those words when he held his guitar out over the crowd, inviting them to strum on it, to make their own noise, and suddenly the band's vision of "10,000 kids with guitars" seemed to have gotten its first recruits. Strangely enough, I found myself thinking of another pop promise, one much older than Lee, first made by Gene Chandler, and fulfilled this night by these Australian teenagers. Noise Addict let us walk through their dukedom to hear paradise unfurl.

By Charles Taylor

Charles Taylor is a columnist for the Newark Star-Ledger.

MORE FROM Charles Taylor

Related Topics ------------------------------------------