Turn It Up, Way Up

The band contributed to an '80s tribute album called Gag Me With A Spoon, which featured covers of Devo's "Whip It" and Thomas Dolby's "She Blinded Me With Science."

By now you've probably heard the Becktones of Citizen King's "Better

Days (And the Bottom Drops Out)" (RealAudio excerpt). Half southern boogie, half hippity-

hop, it's got all the markings of a "Fly" or "Walking on the Sun" --

that is, the good-time single by a band you may never hear from again.

(Of course, the near-ubiquity of Sugar Ray's "Fly II" is busily

destroying that pattern.)

Whether or not you hear from Citizen King a second time won't have much

to do with how good their major-label debut, Mobile Estates,

actually is -- the computers that sequence most modern-rock radio will

decide if they need another "Better Days" in a couple of months or if

they can just go ahead with the one they have. Rest assured, though,

there are plenty more "Better Days" on Mobile Estates -- the

record has enough variety to avoid being formulaic, but it adheres to a

pleasant, weightless sonic template for its 13 tracks.

Though not exactly Odelay disciples, Citizen King have figured

out how to throw hip-hop beats into pop-rock songs without drumming up

too much cognitive dissonance -- what you basically get is danceable

pub rock, far from the more risky riff-explorations of Soul Coughing,

and not as adventurous as the alien scatology of Beck. On "Better Days"

and the even better "Jalopy Style" and "Under the Influence"

(RealAudio excerpt), the band makes music that avoids any subgenre boundaries

and is just good, new-fashioned pop.

They misstep when bassist/vocalist Matt Sims moves past the sing-speak

style into straight-ahead rapping, as on "Basement Show"

(RealAudio excerpt) or "Smokescreen." His voice, which has a shallow

richness -- like Graham Parker with all the midrange sucked out -- just can't carry the force

the raps need. That pretty much knocks out about a third of the record,

and you end up skipping back to "Jalopy Style."

Still, though, that leaves two-thirds of good, tuneful pop songs, which

is a better ratio than most of the recent crop of one-hit wonders can

claim. All told, Mobile Estates is pretty lightweight, but it

doesn't aspire to be much more than that. Probably great turned up to

11 at a party, Citizen King won't be shifting paradigms any time soon,

but they won't be slotted too neatly into place, either.