On its debut, this skilled and charming LA quintet performs power pop of a decidedly Kinksy bent; singer/songwriter Keith Slettedahl is a most convincing Ray Davies impersonator, matching the icon’s timbre and inflection. The songs are less overtly derivative (except in spots, when the Muswell Hill echo is unmistakable); the 88 takes a reasonably catholic approach to extremely tuneful guitar-and-piano songage. Multi-instrumentalist and producer Adam Merrin contributes mightily to the band’s fresh sound, which sparks a lot more original promise than the Kinks resemblance would suggest.
The second album bears out that hunch in spades: Over and Over replaces homage with simply stupendous pop achievement. Happily constrained by the boundaries of traditional Tin Pan Alley-by-way-of-rock tuneage, the 88 is victorious on this deeply plowed field, wielding craft, wit, power and infectious ebullience in perfect proportions. Ably supported by Merrin’s piano-playing, Slettedahl’s joyous, confident singing has a wiggly warble (Marc Bolan en route to Jeff Buckley) that bubbles like a brook through such neurotic but heartfelt winners as “Bowls,” “Nobody Cares,” “Battle Scar,” “Hide Another Mistake” and “Haunt You.” Perhaps without meaning to, Over and Over relocates that magical moment in 1970s England when the lighthearted fun of Elton John, Gilbert O’Sullivan, T. Rex, Sailor, Sparks, the Kinks and Mungo Jerry all marched together in a crazy glam parade.