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Vivian Girls’ Cassie Ramone has maxed out her credit, and the exact moment it happened occurs one minute and ten seconds into “Run Me Over,” the opening song on the self-titled debut (Shrimper Records) of her side-project, The Babies. Her Babies buddy, Kevin Morby, taking a break from his main gig as the bassist for Woods, is doing just fine on the tune, a punchy jangle-pop number, and then Ramone hijacks the song with her vocals, which sound exactly like Shelley Duvall’s Olive Oyl from Robert Altman’s Popeye. Dennis Callaci, who has run Shrimper Records for the past 21 years, has surely developed a high tolerance for quivering, nasal vocals—-for many years, his brother Allen sang in that very style for the Callacci brothers’ band, Refrigerator. The rest of us might not be so immune.
Perhaps it’s unfair to pile on Ramone’s limited vocal range. Vivian Girls weathered a predictable backlash after the surprising success of their self-titled album in 2008. Naysayers said that they couldn’t properly play their instruments, that their style borrowed too much from superior C-86 bands, and that Ramone had flatter harmonies than Linda McCartney. The band went through more drummers than Spinal Tap. Ramone deservedly built up some stature in the Brooklyn scene and should be admired for her stick-to-itiveness, not only for persevering with Vivian Girls (whose third album is due this April) but also for starting The Babies. Admired, sure, but not lauded: The Babies is a ramshackle, tossed-off affair, full of listless girl-group choruses (“All Things Come to Pass”) and enervating arrangements (“Wild 1”).
Morby deserves to bear a share of the blame for The Babies. His own lack of imagination leads to the choral repetition on “Breakin’ the Law,” in which the pair sings the phrase “Breakin’ the law/We used to break the law” 17 times. (To be fair, Rob Halford sang the chorus of Judas Priest’s completely different, better song “Breaking the Law” 32 times.) Morby’s talk-singing on “Wild 2,” meanwhile, sounds bored and uninspired. The melodies are only memorable in the way that certain headaches remind us of previous headaches.
Funds are tight these days. The Babies are charging as much for their debut as, say, Black Tambourine’s self-titled album or Wings’ greatest hits. As musical consumers must limit their consumption budgets, musicians should display similar restraint in expending their credibility and talents.