Art school has been the petri dish for more great English bands than that nation’s unemployment line. Though America’s education system doesn’t provide quite the same refuge for creative teenagers anxious to avoid a career, it’s not uncommon for dreamy rockers studying painting or graphic design to coalesce around audio projects. While that process can yield Talking Heads, it is also responsible for the Rake’s Progress. Westchester-born guitarist Gregg Lapkin and singer Tim Cloherty, the core of the New York-based quintet, met at Parsons School of Design in the late-’80s; the others brought along impressive credits studying and performing classical music, a genre that might have served them better than the band’s uninspired middle-of-the-road alternapop and rock.
The inexplicably titled six-song EP starts (and might as well have ended) with the mildly rendered “You Must Be on Drugs,” mainly an excuse for the invigorating, questionably unironic singalong chorus: “Sell me something, get me high/Make me perfect, make me blind/Squeeze my head to milk my mind.” The Banana Splits said it better. Altitude adds a few more catchy bits while toughening the attack into a generic nothing that could be Toad the Wet Sprocket or somebody equally faceless. Songs about cross-dressing (“Howard Is a Drag”), drinking (“Man Overboard,” “2 Eggs Any Style”), romantic collapse (“Whatever,” “Looks Like This Could Be the End”), suicide (the mawkish semi-acoustic “I Hope You Miss Me”), geography (“Port au Prince Tourist Information”) and urban paranoia (“I’ll Talk My Way Out of This One,” reprised from the EP) evince a certain rakish intelligence, but the band’s overriding blandness keeps the album from leaving any permanent marks. Even the occasional bout of stupidity (“Heart Full of Stuff” works over the word “fuck” like a six-year-old who has just been punished for saying it) is incidental.