The Mooney Suzuki had the good fortune of forming right before three-chord garage rock tackled the American zeitgeist in late 2001, entitling them to street cred withheld from the Vines and the Strokes. The New Jersey/New York quartet forged its fluid groove and rhythmic riffing in three solid years of gigging on the East Coast. If the band’s stage antics are unapologetically hokey, their live sound is as tight as welded steel. Albums haven’t communicated that energy wholesale; instead, the Mooney Suzuki has used the recording studio to clue listeners in to the pop songwriting craft lurking beneath the hard rock fireworks.
Although named for Can’s two non-German lead singers (Malcolm Mooney and Damo Suzuki), the band has a less pretentious plan than that would indicate. Exclusively hips and muscle, the self-titled 1999 EP collects up the highlights of a string of singles (which fans should scoop up on sight, including the Love Is Everywhere 7-inch). “Your Love is a Gentle Whip” matches furious rhythm section work (bassist John Paul Ribas and drummer Will Rockwell) with hyper riffing by guitarist Graham Tyler and guitarist/vocalist Sammy James Jr.’s insistent baritone. The Mooney Suzuki sound like the sex hungry young men they were, barely into their 20s and no more serious than their shaggy bowl haircuts and Ray-Bans. The surprise arrives via “My Dear Persephone,” an able rocker with a script flipped by acoustic rhythm guitar, James’ extra-plaintive singing and a melody channeled straight from the Zombies’ “She’s Not There.” Ventriloquism, yes, but not easy, and the world is better place for accomplished attempts like this one.
The full-length People Get Ready wisely reiterates “My Dear Persephone,” cleaned up via Tim Kerr’s production. Yet most of the tracks echo the sonic and lyrical aims of the opener, “Singin’ a Song About Today,” a simple sentiment repeated above a backing track straight off the Nuggets compilation. And while they wear their influences (MC5, Sonics, New York Dolls, early Aerosmith) on the sleeve of every instrumental idea at this point, the Moonies save themselves with a talent for timing. “Right About Now” threatens to add nothing new to the album until harmonica drops in at the perfect moment. Even when they’re rocking their hardest, the Mooney Suzuki lightly salt the rhythm with funk. (Warning: do not try not to get your freak on to the blistering, pissed-off “Everything’s Gone Wrong.”)
Electric Sweat continues the attack with such choice barn burners as “Electrocuted Blues” and the straight-faced humor of “In a Young Man’s Mind” (“A kid with a guitar / What does he want to do / But be like Pete Townshend, Jimmy Page and Hendrix, too / Burnin’ to learn how to play / And practicin’ everyday / But I was really feeling I might meet some ladies this way”). But the influx of softer tracks is worth the loss of harder rock. The summery “Oh Sweet Susannah” comes complete with a sing-song chorus, handclaps and vocal reverb worthy of a Translator single, and the organ-drunk “It’s Showtime Part II” is more Motown than MC5. Maybe the boys sound a tad tired with tearing the roof off, and that’s OK, since improved songwriting never hurt a hard rock band.