By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
The New Transistor Heroes
Grand Royal Records
When Soundgarden broke up a month or so ago, many in criticdom--never ones to make a bold prediction unless someone else has made it first--were finally able to go out on a fairly sturdy limb to pronounce the death of grunge. Unfortunately--or fortunately for those with discerning ears--grunge has been dead for quite some time, and the demise of the flannel-rock supergroup only served to place a wreath of carnations on its grave.
While some bands continue to trot out thinly veiled tributes to the gloom and doom of rock's recent past (see Bush's Sixteen Stone and Razorblade Suitcase for details), in the last few years a new wave of bands has emerged that rejects all the self-pity, wanton angst, and downright depression that marked the Seattle movement. Bands that write pop songs about girls, having fun, and girls who just want to have fun. Bands that want to be stars, and don't feel guilty for doing so.
Bis, a trio of shiny, happy youngsters from Glasgow, Scotland, is one such band. Their debut full-length, The New Transistor Heroes, is a superb follow-up to 1996's This is Teen-C Power EP. New Transistor is kind of like going to a car show and getting a photo snapped with the General Lee: It's a little cheesy, and everybody seems to be doing it, but it feels right.
Nothing on this album digs too deep, no hidden messages or agendas (not surprising, judging by song titles such as "Sweet Shop Avengerz" and "Skinny Tie Sensurround"). There is only one message: We're young and proud of it, so piss off. The band is content to sing about "wanting to star in an Eighties movie" and eating candy, and lets its enthusiasm make up for any lyrical shortcomings. Bis--comprising keyboardist Manda Rin, guitar-playing brothers Sci-Fi Steven and John Disco, and a drum machine--actually sounds as if the members were pogoing in the studio during the recording session.
Predictably, any album based on sheer energy is bound to have a few rough moments--after all, a caffeine high lasts only so long. New Transistor is no exception. Those moments are few and far between, though, as the band incorporates tag-team lyrics, off-kilter beats, and shout-along choruses into a unique blend of punk, Britpop, disco--even hip hop, at times--with a lab rat's dosage of sugar on top. It's a stylistic diversity that distances Bis from the "singles band only" label with which it's been tagged.
New Transistor succeeds because it taps into that same pre-teen impulse of having a Twinkie before dinner. Who cares if it spoils supper? Sometimes you just want a Twinkie.