Ben Folds told indie musicians, their fingers sore from scraping guitar frets all those years, that it was, indeed, okay to pound the keys like The Piano Man.
Well, all these lessons seem writ large in The Baby Teeth Album, a bizarre and danceable marriage of perky bubblegum pop, dancefloor funk, and indie sensibilities from the trio of Pearly Sweets (no kidding), Jim Cooper, and Peter Andreadis.
The record is, in more ways than one, a mixed bag.
At one turn, the carefully produced outing seems obsessed with its sugary sweet blasts of funk-pop — the porn film bass-thump of “Celebrity Wedding,” the wah guitars and cooed harmonies of “The Three Sisters,” the bouncy pseudo-ballads “Dream” or “Loving Strokes.”
But, elsewhere, the adherence to pop form, in all its bombastic obviousness, feels almost satirical. For this, look to the borderline-theatrical falsettos and campy Queen piano of “Dynamite Explodes” or the saccharine balladeering (and odd Joe Cocker-isms?) of “End of Actress.”
All the liner-note pics of nightmare-prom blue tuxedos aside, the boys in Baby Teeth want to have their cake and eat it, too. They strive to master the art of vintage 70’s pop delivery, to nail all the requisite points, and then, when it becomes too sweet to stomach, to kick down the structures they’ve built.
While it’s interesting to hear Baby Teeth walk the line between the charmingly naïve and the more jaded or retro-conscious, the record works best when the artists abandon this dance all together and try their hand at more inventive (and less predictable) fare.
The album-opener “Mighty Time” might have some radio-ready moments (the glassy keyboard bridge, the pitch-perfect harmonies, the catchy choruses), but what stands out most is the repeated 1-2/1-2 crunch of guitar, bass, and drums that occasionally rears its head. The lush splashes of color lent to “Cool Month of June,” despite some more obvious pop sections, would catch the ear of Aimee Mann or Jon Brion. The track’s droning bass verses, when weighed against its other moments, are downright strange. “Rock the Boat” — which runs, at 6 minutes and 11 seconds, roughly twice as long as the songs surrounding it — leans more on jagged rock exercises than anything on the disc and ends with the hammering of a fuzzed-out bass and a cacophony of background noise.
It’s here where the band feels most exhilarated, most like a creative engine in its own right, and it’s here where listeners may hope these guys cut those permanent teeth once the baby ones make their way to the underside of a bedroom pillow. – Delusions of Adequacy, Aug. 2, 2005