Pawn Shoppe Heart, the major-label debut from
Detroit-based The Von Bondies, gets more than a little gooey with
break-up angst unbefitting anybody over the age of 17. Ypsilanti
native Jason Stollsteimer has a hell of a throaty club bellow and
an ear for catchy, crunching riffs. But here his earnestly moody
lyrics squash the raw live glee the band displayed opening for
Sonic Youth, The Stooges and yes, The White Stripes.

Laura Wong
Shh … if you listen closely, you can hear the ocean. (Courtesy of Sire)

Handpicked by legendary mogul Seymour Stein to help revive his
famed imprint Sire records (The Ramones, The Smiths, The
Replacements), The Von Bondies have made hefty career strides since
their days as D-town’s favorite warm-up act. With ex-Talking
Heads keyboardist Jerry Harrison tackling production duties,
Pawn Shoppe deftly balances radio sheen and Motor City grit,
easily offsetting the lingering cries of “sell-outs”
still echoing off the walls of the Magic Stick. There is a showroom
efficiency to the album that reflects a band intent on going places
in the industry, with nearly every track clocking in at less than
three minutes. While you have to admire the economy, ultimately it
might be adding to the static sameness of Pawn Shoppe, which
seems desperately in need of mood shift.

The opening tide of feedback on “No Regrets” and the
irresistible slinking bass line on the lead single
“C’Mon, C’Mon” are the spine-shivering
seeds of something great. Anywhere the group’s blasting
boy/girl call-and-response choruses between Stollsteimer, bassist
Carrie Smith and guitarist Marcie Bolan crop up showcases
excellence. But somehow just when you’re ready to air drum
along to Don Blum’s pummeling antics on “Maireed”
or get lost in the buzzing distortion, Stollsteimer kicks back into
his “woe is me” bit and ruins everything.

Things perk up when Carrie pulls a Kim Deal and hijacks the show
on “Not that Social,” a welcome, unexpectedly poppy
change-up to Stollsteimer’s exhausted fastball delivery. A
perfect kiss-off to an over-inflated drunk’s ego, the girly
vocals and manic crank of guitar allow for the whole picture to
briefly crystallize, but Stollsteimer’s refusal to flash a
sense of humor or take a stab at a well-crafted melody over
jackhammer attack infuriates as much as it engages.

 

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

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