For about three-and-a-half minutes in 1993, the Earthmen could have been the next kings of pop. “Cool Chick #59,” the opener of Teen Sensations, is a brilliantly realized snapshot of pop songwriting that recalled the best of a long line of predecessors, from The Byrds to the Charlatans to Dinosaur Jr. In college radio land at the time, this was nirvana, with a small “n.”
The rest of Teen Sensations also holds up rather nicely. On an album made up of singles thrown together for America, these five Melbourne, Australia boys (and they were just boys then) held their own pretty well. By turns plaintive and quiet, but often erupting to all-out discordant rawk, the Earthmen — singer Scott Stevens, guitarists Aaron Goldberg and Nick Batterham (doubling on organ), drummer Glenn Peters and bassist Eric Prentice — turned pretty pop on its ear with nary an apology. Jangle and a distortion pedal have rarely sounded so good together as they do on tracks like “Momentum” and “Encouragement Kiss.” Like their contemporaries in Blur and Superstar, the Earthmen had seen pop go through enough phases to be able to cherry-pick favorite parts. The result, while by no means groundbreaking, is refreshing and familiar at the same time — exactly what a good pop song should be.
On their next EP, The Rise and Fall of My Favorite Sixties Girl, the lads attempted, with mixed results, to move past some of the youthful exuberance that was so appealing about their early work. “Figure 8,” in particular, is Brit-pop at its least interesting, but “Brittle” hints at an appealing direction the band would be well-advised to follow, managing to sound innocent and sophisticated at the same time. The title track, a shambling, edgy rocker, is engaging enough in its own right, and the string section enlisted to lend a twist actually does just that. A few more songs in that vein could have saved this EP from averageness.
By the release of Love Walks In, the Earthmen had become another pop cliché, in the throes of a standard sophomore slump. The new work bears no resemblance to its early potential. Paint-by-numbers Brit-pop has its fans, sure, but like anything else, from American college-rock to trip-hop, only the bands with something new to say rise to the top. Either the Earthmen have nothing new to say, or they’ve already said it.