The Sperlings

While the inspiration behind this title is unclear (superhero? creature of the deep? eco-friendly crooner?), it's not hard to spot the Sperlings' grab bag of influences: '60s power-pop and lite punk, with little crests of a new wave. This Houston quartet doles out 21 tracks, most delivered in three minutes with three chords. With a trio of distinctive singer-songwriters (all except drummer Bruce Stone), it's best to look at the record in terms of each one's contribution.

Mike Fuller racks up the most credits, mostly with his nerd-pop gems that land somewhere in the canyon between Harvey Danger and Weezer. (And yes, that's a big canyon.) His talk-singing is well suited to the boppish "The End of the World Show," "How Strange It Seems" and "Left Behind," though he falters on the slower numbers in which his voice drops a register ("Substance"). That most of the women in his songs are harpies is a subject better explored by a psychiatrist than a music critic.

Carl Sandin's tracks -- mostly fatalistic -- moan about missed opportunities and mock the world with sardonic words, but when he sheds that skin (and picks up an Elvis Costello enunciation), "Don't Hate Me Because I'm Beautiful" becomes a gear dance tune; "Amazon Amy," while lamenting a missed romantic opportunity, turns into a twisted (and funny) tribute. This odd dichotomy in which downtrodden lyrics are offset by upbeat rhythms and melodies is something of a band trademark.

While Robert Smith boasts only two tracks, they're both winners. In Joey Ramone-esque tones, Smith presents us with the weed-smokin', gun-hidin', school-skippin' reprobate in "Oh, Geoffrey," while his "Inside Out" might be the record's catchiest ditty. Fresh as a pack of spearmint gum, Green Manilow makes for super summer listening.


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