Maybe Pearly Sweets doesn’t realize how much he sounds like Robert Lamm. That his carefree, nearly rocking, should-have-a-small-horn-section-backing-him-up keyboard playing evokes Chicago V so much that he’s putting my reputation as a music writer on the line for admitting a certain love for Chicago’s first five records. Perhaps my affinity for such jazz-rock combos as Chicago and Blood, Sweat & Tears is more of a testament to my father’s record collection and hours of oldies radio, though there’s still that excellent pop hook in a not-really-fusion guise. Granted, Robert Lamm’s ballads are enough to expose a dad-rocker from miles away; however, Baby Teeth knows its ’70s pop influences, revels in the three-part harmonies, and delights in their cheekiness.
Coming from pop background, Pearly Sweets is no stranger to the aesthetic (former leader of The Platonics and member of the theatrically-induced-glam-pop of Bobby Conn And The Glass Gypsies). In pop music, there’s a constant consciousness of structure and the community of sound, though the level of awareness ranges from slight nods to influences on the sleeve. But pop also produces its rogues that practice the extremely difficult acknowledgment of irony. This is where artists get into trouble not only as an offender but more often than not as an irony that takes over itself. We’ll have to leave the best executed irony and hole-poking to the trickster characters like Loki, but we have to admit when artists come damn close to achieving the kind of irony that doesn’t mock or self-depreciate, but does the unexplainable third thing.*
Oh, the unexplainable third thing! With regard to pop music, it’s difficult not to be so aware of the art going on around you, but when we’re allowed to look at a past or present trend with a hint of knowing its flaws and still enjoy at how the song’s been ridiculously crafted, well, that’s one of my favorite kinds of pop music. Baby Teeth has a smiling tongue in cheek right down to the Precious Moments wedding cake prominently on display when you open the jewel case. Like others, the effect goes a little too far at times. “Cool Month Of June” is just too sweet and bogged down by a brooding keyboard progression. The band resolves the conclusion with a triumphant pounding of all three members in unison, but too shortly to save it.
The best example of this third thing which, of course, still remains largely unexplained, lies in “End Of Actress.” The blue-eyed soul pours through a starlit keyboard accompanied by “ah“s until Jim Cooper blasts through the song with a fuzz bass reminiscent of Robert Sledge’s work with Ben Folds Five. Here we find Baby Teeth fist-pumping a soft-rocker, a most difficult task reserved mainly for pianists dressed in feather boas and rhinestone-studded sunglasses. Even in his lyrics about sex, celebrities, and other ’70s AM pop standards, he has a Warholian sense of humor equal to his music. How else can they get away with “Even if that ass was made of solid gold/Government-insured against growing old/I’d still walk right here along the border/Rage against the never-ending light” (“End of Actress”)? Or “They say strokes mean selling out/I don’t know what they’re talking about/Maybe they’re too fine to be true/But I do believe in stars/I do” (“Loving Strokes”)?
Tricksters and ironies gone wrong aside, The Baby Teeth Album accomplishes what most albums tackling ’70s soft-rock can’t and do so with competent transitions, eye-winking three-part harmonies, and a genuine love for the period it emulates. I won’t say that the ’70s never sounded so good because we all know Chicago ruled, but I will say Baby Teeth makes me love the ’70s all the more.
* — With apologies to Lewis Hyde.
Written by Lars Gotrich.