Pompadour And Circus-Stance

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

music.

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

Ray?"

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

are used

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

Day).