We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.
As queen bee of the Shangri-Las, Mary Weiss cultivated a campy disaffection that foreshadowed ’60s renegade youth culture. Four decades after the dissolution of her tough New York girl group, she returns with Dangerous Game, a record that revels in the rock ’n’ roll formulas she helped invent without bothering to build on them. A poor Xerox of the diva’s classic work, the ill-considered solo debut has none of the charm of the Shangri-Las’ miniature pop melodramas. Instead, Weiss, without irony, rehashes themes she first explored during the Johnson administration. “My Heart Is Beating,” the opener, is a ’60s relic right down to its overdubbed castanets. “My heart’s beatin’/I know you’ve been cheatin’,” she croons, but if an audience is to swallow this sentiment in 2007, the song structure, instrumentation, mix—something—needs to startle. Producers Greg Cartwright (of Memphis garage-rockers the Reigning Sound) and Billy Miller miss multiple opportunities to revise this tired script. “Past, Present, and Future,” the Shangri-Las’ bizarre spoken-word lament for lost love, was released in 1966, but it sounds fresher than the new “You’re Never Gonna See Me Cry,” another iteration of overblown teenybop angst. When Weiss tries to flirt with irreverence, she only sounds desperate for a reaction. “Kids don’t know shit” she spits on “Cry About the Radio,” lamenting 21st-century pop music. The grumpy diss is both transparently provocative and nonsensical—it’s disingenuous for Weiss, a potential Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee, to assert, “I don’t write hits.” The inspired power chords on “Don’t Come Back” borrow from the Ramones, but Weiss’ voice isn’t strong enough to pull off a punk pose. Instead, Dangerous Game showcases her poor singing—the ballad “Break It One More Time” longs for the whacked-out production of “Leader of the Pack” (remember those growling motorcycles?) to cloak the inconsistency of her pitchy alto. Dangerous Game shoves a pop icon into the spotlight but fails to show why she’s still relevant. If Marianne Faithfull can go from Jagger’s ex to punk godmother and Loretta Lynn can make Jack White her muse, Weiss could certainly prove she’s no mere Shangri-La. “I love you just the same/As I did when you called me baby,” she insists on the album’s title track. Weiss’ audience is ready to love her, too, but this lazy record doesn’t put stars in its eyes.