Weekly Wire
Weekly Alibi Rock by Committee

By Brendan Doherty

JANUARY 19, 1999:  Few bands actually work together on the music that they play and record. One or two people run most bands on the creative and business sides. It's rarely a collaborative event--resembling at its extremes a fascist dictatorship or a rudderless boat. Musical dictators are often like the Smashing Pumpkins' Billy Corgan, who plays all of the bass and guitar parts on the band's recordings, writes the lyrics, hires everyone and sings. At the other extreme are musical anarcho-collectives that are unable to bring themselves to edit each other--pushing listeners through "In-a-Gadda-da-Vida"-like fifteen minute songs.

Number One Cup is neither. The impressive four-piece alternative pop band from Chicago write their songs with the sharpness of a single vision using a collective method. As such, they are a good sounding anomaly. Turning five albums and a number of tours into a career, the band have navigated the creatively difficult waters of communal songwriting in the world of loud rock. It would seem that every creative decision would be hotly contended by the members, three of whom sing.

"If we've learned anything in the 10 years we've been a band, it's how not to piss people off," says drummer/singer Michael Lenzi. The strong-jawed Lenzi manages to both play and look like a '90s version of the Monkees' singer and drummer Mickey Dolenz. "Everything is subject to the committee. That's the way it works with this band. We write songs as a group. We'll have individual singers, but not songwriters."

While comparisons to contemporary groups like Pavement, Guided by Voices, and the Flaming Lips will put you in the ballpark, Number One Cup have achieved a far more singular identity on their latest CD, on which Lenzi does most of the singing. Earlier albums sounded more like compilations of different bands rather than different facets of the same band. With a strong intellectual underpinning attached to their aggressive, two-guitar, bass and drums aesthetic, Number One Cup play straightforward rock music with quirky pop twists. Boasting three competent vocalists and a penchant for adding strange additional instrumentation to their basic rock sound, this group infuses a vast, cinematic scope to tuneful little songs that rarely exceed the four-minute mark. With a little luck, these guys could actually come up with a hit single or two.

"We're a little bit older than the average band, and we've been doing this a long time," says Lenzi. "We know most everyone else does not write songs this way. The most recent record was a stepping off point because we changed bass players, and we each went over all of the lyrics. Each of us made small changes, but I think the voice of the person still carries through. We don't have 30-minute songs."

The fruits of their group-writing approach and wide-ranging influences are evident on their fifth and most recent release, People People Why Are We Fighting. Soaring melodies, backward hooks and non-sensical lyrics twist around themes of music itself ("Vintage Male Singer"); alienation ("3 Stars"); the road ("Unison Bends") and drinking ("Ice Melts Around My Battery). Contrasting with the rockers is non-sappy piano and heartbeat repose, "Canada Disappears," the Depeche-Mode-like "The Low Sparks" and the maudlin piano outro "Why Are We Fighting?" Like a shiny coin in the goulash, the ebullient pop road song, "Remote Control," a pop song worthy of the Boo Radleys, burns out as different than the rest. It has the greatest pop appeal.

The band appear to be the four guys from down at the coffee shop by the University. T-shirts, jeans, cheap worn shoes, hair a little greasy. Except Lenzi looks like Mickey Dolenz, and guitarist Patrick O'Connor looks a little like Steven Malkmus of Pavement. It lends a little star power to their post-college dressing-down "rock casual."

"We look like your friends," says Lenzi. "And Pat doesn't mind so much that he looks like Malkmus. We were all re-invigorated by music in 1991. We were bitten by the My Bloody Valentine "Loveless" bug, and Pavement's "Slanted and Enchanted." We came along toward the end of that movement. We were the people buying the records, waiting for our chance to make the music."


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