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.