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The Ponys - Celebration Castle

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Artist: The Ponys

Album: Celebration Castle

Label: In the Red

Review date: Apr. 26, 2005

It seems more appropriate to talk more about what the Ponys aren’t than what they are: they aren’t too professional, yet they aren’t that pretentious. They aren’t very original, but they’re not exactly boring or pat in what they do, either. They burst onto the scene around 2001, with very little control over their instruments but a stunning debut album, Laced with Romance, surfaced in 2004, falling favorably on a rock press and fanbase hungry for something exciting, which it delivered in spades. A darkly sweet Anglophilic salute to Phil Spector via Echo and the Bunnymen, Laced hiccupped out a rhythm on a tremendous wall of sound that held promise. Extensive touring followed, but the band didn’t noticeably improve (exhaustedly taking the stage after a series of shows with Bloc Party, the band hobbled through a recent set as unsteady as frontman Jered Gummere’s gamey ankle at New York City’s Mercury Lounge). In that sense, it was interesting to see/hear a group performing at what seemed to be their limits.

Celebration Castle is the group’s follow-up, and a chance to recoup with respectability. Name guitarist Brian Case (90 Day Men) is in the lineup now, replacing Ian Adams and his organ, and they’ve attempted to tighten up where their debut hung slack – shorter, less songs, less room to drag. Yet dragging is all that Celebration Castle does, falling deeper into the garage-meets-new wave dichotomy that looks good on paper but would require considerably more talent to execute.

That’s not to say they’re polished – they’re not, despite a Steve Albini recording that assembles their chiming guitars into a crystalline cage, with a lighter but similar touch than his work with the Wedding Present a decade or so back. That’s also not to say that they don’t have moments, which they do: side 2 is rockin’, with nods to muddy R&B stomp (“Get Black”), hot psych-flash-acid guitar squallin’ (“Shadow Box”), and even some success in the crossover they so desperately want (“She’s Broken,” with female vocals, a sturdy beat, and more energy than they normally muster), and one charmingly hit single (“Ferocious”) with a hook so sharp it’ll put your eye out.

But it’s hard sloshing through the front nine, where the band’s new directions diffuse into meaningless posturing, as evidenced by the frigid “We Shot the World” and opener “Glass Conversation,” pretty much every argument that can be stacked against this band within two songs. The songs fall flat, devoid of momentum or spirit; they’re die-cast in their formality and follow a format so rigid that they’d shatter if played with any sort of determination. If the advances that Interpol made on Antics (in terms of keeping a moody, referential-type song interesting past the three- or four-minute mark) didn’t teach these kids a lesson, then nothing will.

Their sense of daring can be applauded, but it pays to listen to the competition. It also can’t hurt them, or anyone, to dig – witness the nearly forgotten French punk band Les Thugs, who mastered the form of continental, modern garage noise pop (particularly on 1993’s double-length As Happy as Possible) with effortless, machine-like intensity and a hair-raising wall of guitar; in short, everything that’s not here. If the Ponys continue to keep it in their pants, then talk of what they aren’t is going to continue to drown out that of what they are, or what they could be.

By Doug Mosurock

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