Monique Powell sure sounds like Gwen Stefani; even looks like Gwen Stefani. So how in the world of ska-punk acts is Powell's seven-member band Save Ferris supposed to separate itself from comparisons to No Doubt? It can't, really.
Five-year-old Save Ferris will inevitably be likened to the Grammy-nominated No Doubt, which has been playing together for more than a decade. Why? Both are all-male bands fronted by female lead singers. Both are from Orange County. Both write songs primarily about relationships and being young coeds. Both dress the same. And both share that precarious "ska-punk" niche, one that didn't catch mainstream America's eye until Stefani's "Just a Girl" sent impressionable teen girls scrambling for Indian forehead jewels and belly shirts.
Save Ferris's newly posted Web site even looks identical to No Doubt's, for Siva's sake. (Of course, nowhere in Modified's sleeve is there a thank-you to No Doubt. Save Ferris owes the original O.C. ska band at least a nod.)
With Modified, however, Save Ferris starts to make a name for itself. Those who thought the band achieved success two years ago solely from its cover of "Come on Eileen" are dead wrong. Save Ferris has serious talent, which is why it was snatched up by Epic at an unsigned bands showcase in 1995.
Unlike Save Ferris's debut, It Means Everything, its latest release actually sounds like ska, with harder-hitting and better-timed brass and choppy acoustic stylings. Save Ferris finally takes advantage of its six-member-strong rhythm section.
The downside: Powell writes stupid lyrics, even though the band clearly emphasizes pop's brainlessly fun qualities rather than its inspirational ones. Still, "Livin' La Vida Loca" sounds like a Springsteen number compared to, say, "Turn It Up." The song works, but its lyrics dull it down. Powell sings: "So come on Mister DJ and play us a song / The one that makes us smile and wanna sing along / Can't ya see I'm calling out to you."
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Unfortunately "Your Friend," one of Modified's tightest tracks, is also wrapped around the mundane. ("I don't wanna have to be your friend / So tired of trying to be your friend / I don't wanna have to be your friend, no, anymore.")
Powell's lyrics often sound as if they were lifted directly from a sixth-grader's secret note in science class. The writing was even worse on the band's debut, with songs about Spam ("Spam / I buy it at the Mobil / Spam / It's made in Chernobyl / Spam") and being underage ("The other night / Tried to go to a show / But the man at the door / He told me no / He said, No one under 21 allowed"). So in a way, the songs on this record represent lyrical improvement.
Moronic words aside, Save Ferris's latest has two potent ska tracks: the aforementioned "Your Friend" (despite its lyrical shortcomings) and "What You See Is What You Get." "Mistaken," the song getting airplay in cities further west, and "Angry Situation" are a couple of bona fide hits, replete with tight beats, ample brass and nasty lead guitar lines.
Don't pay attention to the words, which is okay when you're shaking your butt, and Save Ferris is ultimately enjoyable. As is Modified.