We Smell Cigarette Smoke And High Dental Bills

With a paean to "Secret Squirrel." Hooray!

On Marcy Playground's sophomore release, we find lead singer John Wozniak

looking back — and around and ahead and askew — with a wry eye

and a raw psyche. In fact, Shapeshifter could serve as a sonic

manual for soul searchers fast approaching thirty (Wozniak is 28).

Chapter one is the opening track and first single, "It's Saturday" (RealAudio

excerpt). Here we find the song's protagonist faking illness to

get out of school — Wozniak plays the character perfectly, with

childlike glee. More in this vein can be found on the goofball "Secret

Squirrel," based on the sixties cartoon about a squirrel who "can breathe

in water, yeah, and [whose] super tail can stop the danger."

While fan boys and girls have a tendency to compare Marcy Playground with

Nirvana and the Beatles, the trio — made up of songwriter/producer

Wozniak on guitar and vocals, Dan Rieser on drums and Dylan Keefe on bass

— sound, at certain moments, like They Might Be Giants. But somehow

those moments don't conflict with the moments in which their work sounds

an awful lot like a certain kind of ruminative Pearl Jam song, or the

occasional moments when they sound as though someone here was a Rush fan

before switching to the Velvet Underground.

In "America" Wozniak reflects on how people find their places in the world.

Now we come to the depressed portion of our twenties with the tune "Bye

Bye" where "Every mistake I make comes back to haunt me/ Still I'm as

happy as I've ever been." Uh-oh. Then it's on to love-gone-wrong with the

dreamy slow psychedelia of "All the Lights Went Out" when "I knew that

we were doomed, doomed to love each other."

"Wave Motion Gun" (RealAudio

excerpt) is delivered in Wozniak's oddly charming nasal twang and

enhanced by his knack for rhyme: "Wish you had their amenities, to fend

off your enemies/ Soon there'll be no pain again, you'll feel like yourself

again/ When you shoot all your heroin/ In one big blast from your wave

motion gun." At the end of the song, when there's talk of ovens, gas and

climbing in, the listener can't help but wonder if someone should dial

911.

On the lighter tip are throwaways such as "Sunday Mail" (which never comes)

and "Pigeon Farm" (reprised at the very end of the album after the last

song fades). We circle back to anguish on the sinister "Never" with

disturbing imagery such as "tied to the tree and the straps at your knees"

and "walk in the water and bleed in the stream" before you "breathe in

the water, breathe it in deep — don't ever wander don't ever move

again." The final track, "Our Generation" (RealAudio

excerpt), has a cynical undercurrent that may or may not be

deliberate, as we're urged to sing "la la la la la la to the human race."

While there's no obvious successor here to the band's 1997 hit "Sex and

Candy," John Wozniak has clearly found his calling. Turns out he's a

singer/songwriter. And a good one.