Wounded Lion - "Relaxation is My Specialty" (IVXLCDM)
Besides being the title of the newest Wounded Lion album, IVXLCDM is an inversion of the year the great fire of London took place. The titleís origins are anybodyís guess, but taking an established cultural artifact and applying a prankish dream-logic to it is a recurring theme in Wounded Lionís catalog. (And, unlike Mika Mikoís C.Y.S.L.A.B.F. ó the previous album titled with a cryptic, seven-letter acronym to emerge from the Los Angeles music scene ó Wounded Lionís puzzle is actually solvable.) That Wounded Lion frontman Brad Eberhard is able to turn these cut-and-pasted bits (the albumís title included) into shout-along choruses has been a testament to his songwriting ability, but it also tends to paint Wounded Lion into a sonic corner. IVXLCDM fails to mutate Wounded Lionís craft in much of a significant way, and at this point, itís down to whether youíre on board with Eberhardís methods or not.
The guileless nature of Eberhardís vocal delivery and the direct, complete-sentence nature of his lyrics have the potential to create a bunch of grating, "whatís your tattoo mean"-type questions about IVXLCDM, but if Wounded Lionís previous output is any indicator, the obliqueness is not only here to stay, itís part of the point. Garage rock and indie pop (of which Wounded Lion operate somewhere near the intersection) arenít exactly known for catering to ambiguity, especially when a band is working in such a dead-simple Chills/Equals/Modern Lovers mold. Itís easy, then, to put Eberhardís lyrics up against the likes of Jonathan Richmanís and come away feeling like youíre missing something. Whether youíre comfortable with, say, not completely understanding why Eberhard begins quoting "Depression" by Black Flag at the end of "Relaxation Is My Specialty" is pivotal to whether or not youíll connect with IVXLCDM.
In spite of its abundance of off-the-cuff lyrical moves, the majority of the LP devotes itself to two-chord songs with a couple of talk-sung verses and a shouted chorus. Eberhard brings enough charisma to the table to get by, but the album suffers from a lack of songwriting dynamics. "Raincheck Vibrations" is easily the standout track, and provides a glimpse of what Wounded Lion is capable of on a full-length. At nearly seven minutes, the songís arrangements are given room to breathe, and Eberhard artfully and intensely describes a couple of episodes of The Love Boat and Batman that he saw. Itís innately ridiculous, but it doesnít sound ridiculous and, as the songís title is repeated during its coda, you canít help but admire Ebersolís ability to turn pop-culture surrealist poetry into a rallying cry.
Considering both Monty Buckles of LAMPS and Lars Finberg of The Intelligence have been known to perform with Wounded Lion, the understated sophistication in play during the highlights of IVXLCDM is no surprise. With the right personality at the helm, primitive rock and roll can work as an excellent blank canvas for the application of smart idiosyncrasies. But Eberhardís lyrical and vocal tics donít typically extend to Wounded Lionís songwriting, and thatís what ultimately what cuts IVXLCDM off at the knees. Still, it remains an admirable experiment in a field of pop bands that often seem completely terrified of being misunderstood.