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To say that the Mullens are stuck in the past would be as big an understatement as suggesting that maybe someone should keep an eye on Michael Jackson's kids. Apparently, the band's collective memory stops around the time Farrah Fawcett-Majors posters adorned bedroom walls. They still remember a time when the Rolling Stones weren't that laughable and the Ramones were just beginning to revolutionize pop music. Listening to the Mullens' eponymous debut album, it's like the '80s never happened. Or the '90s.
It's groundbreaking stuff...or at least it would have been 30 years ago. Had it come out in 1968, it would have one-upped the Rolling Stones and predated the New York Dolls by several years. But much has happened since then, and three decades down the line, the album is little more than a lukewarm rehash of everything that came before it, a history-of-rock term paper dressed up as a compact disc. To be fair, the Mullens aren't any worse at replicating the Stones-by-way-of-Ramones sound than garage-punk contemporaries such as Sons of Hercules, the Makers, or the Humpers. They're just not any better either.
Frontman Tim Stile isn't sure whether he wants to be Mick Jagger or Joey Ramone, so he tries to be both. Most of the time, it's an annoying combination, as tedious as watching someone watch paint dry. Even when it does click, his delivery lacks the same spark that made those singers interesting in the first place. Paired with Matt Mayo's adroit riffing, the songs pack all the punch of a Gerry Cooney right cross.
The Mullens shouldn't be faulted for looking to the past. Copping a sound or three from the past isn't wrong; in fact, it's a time-honored tradition. The trick is to lift something and make it new; otherwise, it's just karaoke. Rocket From The Crypt steals from the same places as the Mullens, but its thefts are used as the frame instead of the painting. The Mullens' borrowed sounds are as tired as Iggy's jar-of-peanut-butter routine, and just as welcome. Stile and company have managed to appropriate the sounds of their idols, but they can't duplicate the sense of danger, the gang-with-guitars mentality that made those bands special.
Lyrically, the Mullens have all the depth of a puddle, most songs containing the title, a rhyming couplet, and little else. Still, when the band hits its marks--"That Lip," "Thought You Left," and "This and That"--the album recalls a time when the Stones were the best rock and roll band on the planet. When it doesn't--"Get Off My Carpet," "Start Smokin'" and a handful of others--the album reminds us why most garage-punk albums are popular only in Japan.