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Girls Against Boys

Jade Tree

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After five previous full-lengths, two EPs, and one big major-label deal gone bad, Scott McCloud is apparently feeling philosophical. “It’s only life/It’s only music,” suggests the indie-again Girls Against Boys singer-guitarist on the new You Can’t Fight What You Can’t See. Maybe, but not too long ago it seemed like something more. In 1994, the D.C./New York quartet’s breakthrough LP, Venus Luxure No. 1 Baby, played like a lost SST release, all sludgy guitars, distorted keyboards, and dance-club-catchy drums. McCloud’s smoky growl completed the sound, not to mention the band’s sexed-up image, both of which were perfected with 1995’s Cruise Yourself’s 11 dark and loungey songs, placed in an order that made one crave the return of AOR. After a pretty much half-hearted follow-up (1996’s House of GVSB), GVSB signed on David Geffen’s dotted line, released a criminally bad album (1998’s Freak*on*ica), and got themselves dropped. This is when McCloud & Co. could have moved on—maybe to graphic design. But they didn’t, and with a hand from Delaware’s Jade Tree Records, GVSB have returned—sorta. You Can’t Fight What You Can’t See is not a phenomenal record, but drummer Alexis Fleisig’s beats are as big and dance-floor-worthy as ever, there are triumphant ascending riffs and keyboard lines aplenty, and even some of that old swaggering stupid-sexiness remains (“Like a landslide/Through your mind/I like your style,” McCloud purrs huskily on “The Come Down”). “All the Rage” recalls the pure power of Cruise Yourself’s “Psychic Know-How,” and aspects of other songs (the beginnings of “Basstation” and “Tweaker,” the overall chillness of the last cut, “Let It Breathe”) definitely bring back fond memories. But there’s too much other crap for it all to come together: The bass, though it grunts for a little on “The Come Down,” doesn’t really growl the way it did on Venus Luxure. And where GVSB used to barely dabble in theobvious chord progressions—y’know, the ones that sound pretty—they now linger too long, as if they were filling the space between legitimate parts. Worse, McCloud’s lazily delivered vocals make it sound as if he’s trying to do the pop-punk thing—which, given the band’s new label and the current musical climate, is entirely possible. Indeed, GVSB seem to be trying too hard to be liked, by both old fans and the Saves the Day set. The result is that even as You Can’t Fight What You Can’t See falls short of re-creating the past, it hardly takes a step forward. But, hey, it’s not a travesty when rockers call it quits, right? After all, it’s only music—and there’s undoubtedly more to life. —Mike Kanin