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
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.