If you don’t want people to think your group sounds like a well-known band to which it bears an uncanny sonic resemblance, then it may not be the wisest tactic to have that group’s former drummer paint the back cover illustration for your debut album. Nonetheless, the distorted caricature of the quartet from Urbana, Illinois that brings up the rear on Titanic Love Affair bears the signature of one Chris Mars, late of the Replacements. Yeah, whatever.
Released not long after the Replacements ceased to exist (and before anyone much beyond Buffalo had heard of the Goo Goo Dolls, who made a similar early gaffe by having Paul Westerberg write with them), Titanic Love Affair hovers between Tim and Pleased to Meet Me, without ever breathing on the greatness of either. Ken Hartz (with backing vocals by the quartet’s other guitarist, Jay Bennett) strains to evoke the sound of Westerberg’s voice, only getting close enough to be obnoxious; the tame rock (capably produced by Albhy Galuten, a veteran whose studio résumé includes the Bee Gees) is too many notches below the Replacements’ incendiary jizz to bolster the plainly derivative songwriting. In the album’s weak defense, one good number (“Breakin’ Down the Walls”) is squandered in the effort.
After the short, disappointing corporate experience that attended Titanic Love Affair, the group issued the wryly titled five-song No Charisma on a St. Paul independent label. Co-produced to a healthier pop-rock tumult by the great Adam Schmitt, the surgingly melodic EP trades a borrowed personality for a sound that is less focused but much more exciting. The songs still bear Westerbergian traces, but the delivery of potent slacker rockers like “One Day” and the sardonic “Being Cool” is not aimed in any special direction. TLA recorded a second album in 1994, but nothing new surfaced from the group until 1996. In the meantime, Bennett joined Wilco.