Album Review: The Dirtbombs — Ooey Gooey Chewy Ka-blooey!

A lot of people credit The Ramones with giving bubblegum music a second chance. And I hear that; I know what they mean. There’s an undeniable, delightfully lunkheaded, intentionally-throwaway bubblegum vibe to many of the group’s tunes, especially their ealrier material. But the particular blend of cyncism and innocence – innocence as a commodified product, if you will – that was a centerpiece of the Kasenetz-Katz axis (the progenitors, along with Tommy James and Don Kirshner, of bubblegum) never really figured into their music.

But who would have ever expected a band to nail the vibe of the original bubblegum stuff — embodied in the music of The Archies, Josie and the Pussycats, The Banana Splits, The Hardy Boys, The Lemon Pipers and other often nonexistent groups – in 2013? Not me, for sure.

Like the man said: so much music, so little time. The Dirtbombs had flown completely under my musical radar until the band’s Mick Collins collaborated with Motown guitar ace Dennis Coffey on a knowing remake of Funkadelic‘s “I Bet You” for Coffey’s 2011 self-titled album (a pick for best album of that year, by the way). And while that track has little if anything in common musically with the Dirtbombs’ latest album Ooey Gooey Chewy Ka-blooey!, it was still enough to get my attention.

And Ooey Gooey is more than enough to hold my attention. Former Gories frontman Collins has led the band through six albums since the late 1990s, but most of those mined a synthesis of garage, punk and soul. None of that prepares listeners for the confection that is Ooey Gooey.

Authentic fuzztone guitar and shimmering, insistent tambourine along with lyrics simple enough to pick up quickly are the three hallmarks of the tunes on this album. The record blows by quickly, but it’s full of all sorts of catchy melodies that build on the bubblegum form while never making fun of it; there’s no arch, sly winking we-hate-this-but-here-it-is-anyway attitude from the Dirtbombs on these tunes, even with titles like “Hot Sour Salty Sweet” and “Hey! Cookie.” Ooey Gooey Chewy Ka-blooey! is a knowing tribute to the style, done with panache. That the songs be sturdy and catchy is a requirement, and the band never fails to deliver.

Things get really weird toward the end, though: the last three tracks are labeled “The Sunshine Suite,” and they feature in part a skronky horn-led melody that sounds suspiciously like the verses from The Beach Boys‘ “Good Vibrations.” My best guess is that this suite is a homage to bubblegum artists’ occasional overreaching toward something more substantial.

The packaging is a bonus: an Archies-styled rendering of the band, coupled with simple graphics that tell you nothing (what could you want to know about a bubblegum band, anyway?) fit the tone perfectly. Perhaps Ooey Gooey Chewy Ka-blooey! is a stylistic exercise for this multifaceted Detroit band, but it shows that they have no trouble mastering this particular (and often loved) style of pop music.

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