Division of Laura Lee

Reviewers seldom gush over discs that remind them of albums made by lousy artists from the past; hence the dearth of notices praising Shakira for introducing a new generation to the genius that is Charo. But the opposite proves true when it comes to CDs that recall the long-ago platters of critics' faves. A recent Rolling Stone cover story compared the Vines to Nirvana approximately 713 times, yet never did it suggest that sounding a lot like a band that hasn't existed for nearly a decade is anything other than fabulous. (Whether the Vines actually do sound like Nirvana is another matter entirely.)

Division of Laura Lee has benefited greatly from this phenomenon. Despite its moniker, which name-checks a '60s soul singer best known for the protofeminist declaration "Women's Love Rights," the combo is among a "new wave" of Swedish acts such as the Hives that are heavily influenced by vintage garage rock and punk. These musical elements are hardly novel, of course, and anyone who's spent time traversing the musical underground knows that countless acts have used them for years. Even so, folks with a weakness for this sound, such as yours truly, are generally so overwhelmed with gratitude regarding its newfound popularity that questions of freshness and innovation never really come up. Retro sucks unless what's being referenced was cool -- in which case it's great!

And so it is with Black City, which doesn't have an original idea in its collective head but borrows some pretty damn enjoyable ones. "Need to Get Some," the opener, uses rudimentary riffing, simplistic rhythms, random sirens and Per Stålberg's brawny vocals to produce three minutes or so of pure pleasure; "We've Been Planning This for Years" supplements unconcealed cockiness with background yeah-yeahing that's irresistibly dumb; "The Truth Is Fucked" mates pop sensibility and a grinding groove with lyrics that do justice to its title; and "Wild and Crazy" contradicts its first line -- "I'm not your toy for penetration" -- with a melody that cuts to the core.

Tunes like these have inspired plenty of hosannas from rock journalists, many of them completely out of proportion with the group's actual achievements. At this point in its development, Division of Laura Lee is an entertaining throwback to a genre that's been ignored by the mainstream for a while, not a sonic breakthrough of biblical proportions. Still, it beats the hell out of Shakira -- and maybe Charo, too.

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Michael Roberts
Contact: Michael Roberts