Swing ... And A Miss

The best thing about the Brian Setzer Orchestra has been the former Stray Cats leader's ability to draw a direct line from your grandfather's dusty record collection to your shiny new CDs by infusing rejuvenating psychobilly guitar into the songs of yesteryear. On Vavoom!, the group's fourth disc and successor to 1998's double-platinum The Dirty Boogie, Setzer takes one more step in trying to further bridge swing-era music with modern sounds by "updating" instrumental standards, including adding original lyrics to two Glenn Miller classics, "Pennsylvania 6-5000" and "In the Mood" (here called "Gettin' in the Mood" [RealAudio excerpt]). The results are unfortunately as atrocious as they are blasphemous, setting a tone that keeps Vavoom! mostly falling flat on its straining-to-jump-jive-an'-wail face.

The problem with "Pennsylvania 6-5000" is that the power of the Miller arrangement — its thundering horn section — is sabotaged by Setzer's use of annoying hip-hop tape loops. He adds insult to injury by further obscuring the song with insipid original lyrics. ("You got the look I like/ Come on and show it off/ Whatever you're doin, blow it off/ Call me — Pennsylvania 6-5000." His new lyrics aren't much better on "Gettin in the Mood" ("Jump into my rocket/ 'Cause I'm ready to blast/ I don't know where I'm goin'/ But I'm goin' there fast"), but the real crime here is that, once again, Setzer betrays the message conveyed in the original instrumental. As traditionally played, "In the Mood" has layered horns that go from sounding like nervous anticipation to a Technicolor orgasm of excitement and back again before launching into the stratosphere as all the pieces come together. Setzer's retooling is all orgasm and no foreplay.

If you've never heard the originals of these songs, or some of the other standards covered here, such as Kurt Weill's "Mack the Knife" or Duke Ellington's "Caravan," the versions on Vavoom! might be satisfactory if all you're looking for is a rockabilly-swing fix. And the less said about Setzer's attempt at high-pitched falsetto crooning on his mangling of the Cadillacs' 1954 doo-wop hit, "Gloria," the better.

Of the total of six "adaptations" of older material, the only one Setzer does interesting things with is "Americano" (RealAudio excerpt), an Italian standard he discovered through the movie "The Talented Mr. Ripley." The song's rapid shifts are flawlessly executed as Setzer's guitar adds a little snarky accent to the lyrics about a playboy with high aspirations.

That leaves eight original tracks, and of those only "If You Can't Rock Me" (RealAudio excerpt) and "That's the Kind of Sugar Papa Likes" are rollicking sweat machines that leap out of the gate and don't let up their driving jitterbug grooves until the very end. The remainder of Vavoom! is a blur of jumpy horns and rattlesnake hellbilly guitar, all propping up grooves that neither change speed nor blink. It's all exhale without a moment for intake, and in the end, it mostly just sounds breathless — from effort, perhaps, but not from any real excitement.