ONE SIDED STORY (Chrysalis/MCA)
Recording: Very good
The last time they checked in, with their 1988 album Love Junk, the Pursuit of Happiness revealed themselves to be a splendid anomaly of a band, virtually the creators of their own genre: Wiseguy Pop/Metal with great tunes and honest lyrics about sex. Led by Moe Berg (whom I referred to at the time as the first important guy named Moe in rock history), they dispensed music that was at once witty and serious, tuneful and hard-edged, playful and almost profound, all in the context of an examination of the sorry state of relations between the sexes here in the declining days of the century Isaac Bashevis Singer called "on balance, a complete flop." Clearly, this was a significant bunch of musicians.
Well, here they are again at the dawn of the Nineties, and their latest record, One Sided Story, proves that their debut was by no means a fluke. The music is as tough and mature (in the best sense) as one could hope, and again Todd Rundgren's production fits the band like the proverbial you-know-what. Nevertheless, and at the risk of sounding churlish, I have to say that some of the fun has gone out of the enterprise. Serious as Love Junk may have been, it was also one of the best dance-around-the-house albums since the first Pretenders album, and One Sided Story is a far more somber affair. In fact, if there's a unifying emotional theme to Berg's new songs, it's a sort of rueful desperation. And while most of us will recognize the feeling, even identify on some level, the songs don't exactly make you want to do the boogaloo. The most wrenching emotionally is "Shave Your Legs," in which Berg sets you up for a sort of collegiate sexist joke and then shifts gears into an absolutely heartbreaking lover's plea to save a disintegrating relationship. It's an astonishing performance.
Of course, not everything is slash-your-wrists depressing. "Food," for example, has one of the funniest openings ever penned for a rock song, and the eminently hummable "Runs In the Family" notes that beauty is "as easy as DNA," an insight unlikely to occur to, say, Jon Bon Jovi. But even though the band's execution of Berg's tunes retains an admirably ferocious (but not overbearing) crunch-guitar attack, and even though Berg's singing is taking on an endearingly Lou Reedian cast, there's no getting around the fact that - perhaps deliberately - One Sided Story is something of a bummer. That's a relative judgment, of course - on an off day these kids make smarter music than 99 percent of the metal bands in the Western World. But what the album ultimately sounds like is the soundtrack for Moe Berg's evolution from undergraduate smartaleck into confident adult, which is to say that it's a little strained and a little awkward. That doesn't mean you shouldn't buy this record for your own personal collection. In fact, you should. It just means that growing up is a bitch and I for one wish Berg and Company all the luck in the world while they do it. -- S.S.
I should add that after this ran, my then editor chewed me out for wasting so much space on a review that wasn't an out and out rave.
Why I didn't quit on the spot is a very long story, and if you get me drunk some time I may tell it to you.