Just in time for summer and the accompanying cultural brain-
melt (action movies, trashy beach paperbacks, sugar-coated pop
tunes), English export and Lost Sexton Brother Jimmy Ray has
invaded American radio. With his namesake song a fixture on pop
radio and MTV, it has become impossible
to escape the chorus, one that seems destined to join "Electric
Avenue" and "Rico Suave" in our collective memory banks -- "Are
you Jimmy Ray?"
To which one must respond: "Who wants to know?"
By the time you read this, the answer will most likely be "not me,"
unless you're 14 and happen to reside in Spice World.
Though the 22-year-old Ray hails from the same nation that has
been producing costumed, photogenic musical characters for
decades, he doesn't come close to his predecessors, failing to
possess the tongue-in-cheek wit of Adam Ant or the joyously
bizarre innovations of jungle-punks Bow Wow Wow (Ray's
uncredited borrowing of a BWW lyric on "Goin' To Vegas" invites
such unflattering comparisons).
The glossy CD booklet, a pout-fest of photos straight out of
Details (Ray playing pool, Ray hanging out at one of those
trailer park/discos so common in the States), leaves no doubt of
his "image" (Rockabilly Stud) and his shameless plea for pretty
boy pin-up status. It's money well-spent -- JR's cheekbones and
shiny black tower of hair are more exciting than any of his
As for the tunes themselves, well, the whole affair seems to be a
lot of padding around The Hit. Befitting his OHW (one-hit wonder)
status, it's not a surprise to find none of the other entries packing
as powerful a punch as the energetically silly "Are You Jimmy
Packed to the gills with slick musical excess, Jimmy Ray's reedy
Sexton/Ant hybrid vocals are camouflaged amid multiple layers of
studio wizardry -- samples, hip-hop beats, rockabilly guitar licks,
acoustic guitars, horns, keyboards and loud, heavily leaned-on
female backing vocals. Lyrics are nonsensical and remind one of
Japanese T-shirts adorned with garbled English phrases. The
comparison is apt: Jimmy Ray's entire CD
is an outsider's fetishistic view of American themes -- Vegas,
cowboys and '50s nostalgia.
Most of these songs faithfully adhere to a pattern: an intro
(rockabilly-style guitar or a few bars of "doo wop, doodly doo wop")
followed by a canned, pseudo-hip-hop dance beat (the same ones
repeatedly) and a bunch of studio snazz (see above).
Of course, even slick, crassly commercial, proudly shallow music
has its place in the world, and plenty of charming bands have
been made from less (see: Spice Girls). But unlike the Girls, Ray
seems tragically unaware of his potential kitsch factor (sky-high),
and that's where he falls on his face. When he attempts sensuality
and sings "fly so high underneath the river/I'm gonna try and catch
you on my tongue/oh, your Daddy's got a gun," or breaks into a
quasi-Western alto on "Way Low," you hope he's joking, but then
again, you're not sure. Doubts like this suck the air out of a few
songs that have the potential to be (at least) good, dumb novelties.
Forget asking "Are you Jimmy Ray?" A better question might be
"WHO is Jimmy Ray?"
The answer's not pretty: far from flesh and blood, JR's only a
fabricated, studio-created pop robot, a character with an expiration
date stamped on his molded plastic pompadour: 9/7/98 (Labor