Weekly Wire
Memphis Flyer Turn Up That Noise!

By Stephen Grimstead

OCTOBER 20, 1997: 

the henrys, the henrys (Rockingchair)

FOR ALL I KNOW, MEMPHIS alternalads the henrys have been through hell on Earth. However, the sound of the henrys is often that of favored bright young things scurrying to create drama so that they might reap consequential experience, hoping to prematurely cop "seasoned artist" cred. And that, I suppose, is why the henrys' new CD occasionally comes off like some teenager's autobiography (all deference to past, present, and future Anne Franks, thanks).

Actually, the henrys are young, and apparently pretty bright, as well. And oh, by the way, the henrys (their first album-length release, for the local Rockingchair label) is not a terrible CD.

No, I'm not trying to tease (much). It's just that I am somewhat torn here. On the one hand, it's hard not to succumb to the band's fresh enthusiasm and energetic delivery. On the other, it's even harder to attribute any fresh ideas to them. From "Wash" (the album's faux Hüsker Dü/Green Day opener), to the Madness-inflected "Statues," to their penchant for good-natured smart-alecky schtick (Weezer-style, for instance), the henrys wear their influences like so many tour t-shirts.

Words: the henrys appear to prefer a style of lyric writing which invites the listener to make subjective sense out of seemingly incongruous lines such as "You are the no one, you belong to everyone/You touch them one, you touch them all/You touch no one, your life will fall/There you have no past, but every future waits/What you've been does not exist" You know, youthful zen-rocker-as-Rorschach-tester stuff.

Thing is, I've always loved nonsense lyrics and Rorschach tests (I haven't failed one yet!). So I have to admit it -- on certain levels, I find the henrys to be worth the listen, although I can't pretend that, in a larger sense, this type of pop music isn't verging on artistic bankruptcy.

Hey, this fence straddling is starting to chafe my already sore notion of purpose, so I'll conclude by saying that I think these young henrys (17 to 22 years of age) show a great deal of promise, and I further think it's reasonable to expect their next effort to deliver on that promise.

-- Stephen Grimstead



The Clears, The Clears (Smells Like Records [vinyl released by Resort Theory Entertainment])

LESS THAN A YEAR AGO, THE Clears -- as a band at least -- seemed to come, fully-formed, out of nowhere. Whether that's because they really were fully-formed or simply because they had no precedent on the local music scene is tough to say. And there really are no precedents for the Clears. Not in Memphis, and certainly not in this decade.

With their synthesizer-driven sound and terse, mechanistic phrasing, new wave is, of course, the handy term for what the Clears are about, but new wave of a particular sort, one at the same time older and newer than the eighties. Imagine early Wire filtered through the smarty pants aloofness of ever-less-inventive irony-rock, and you find some yet-to-be-named category for this trio to fall into. Which is practically beside the point, because it's not conceptual hybridization that makes this band worthwhile. Rather, the Clears are just plain clever and downright fun.

For cleverness, you can't find much better than "The Next Thing," the band's machine-age ode to progress ("The next thing is what I want, because I know it will be good/I know I will like it/I know it will work") and a brilliant parody of futurisms of the past -- and, ultimately, of the Clears. And you won't find sneers, but bliss on "Against It," the anti-anthem to everything: "Girls, cars, ice cream, sunglasses, poetry, love, blue skies," and on and on. Even the one cover -- of a Shel Silverstein poem -- is well conceived, raising the musical possibility, "If we were a rock-and-roll band."

As for fun, the contradictions and entertainments of these tracks are like a breath of fresh air. Having spent the last decade musically establishing that we're bored and don't care and don't even care that we don't, it's about time we didn't care with some style. The Clears have that covered with live shows that are full-on-glam, complete with vinyl pants, eye-liner, and Gary Numan-ish, de-personalized ambivalence. I'm not sure of how they do it, but somehow none of it comes off as rehash or genre-mulching. Somehow, as stupid as it sounds, the poker-faced Clears are simply and genuinely what they are.

One more thing: You'll never get the band's theme song, "the C.L.E.A.R.S," out of your head. (On second thought, maybe that's how they do it.) -- Jim Hanas


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