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Groovie Ghoulies | Travels with My Amp | review | punk | Lollipop

Groovie Ghoulies

Travels with My Amp (Lookout!)
by Scott Hefflon

There's something magic about the Groovie Ghoulies. Somehow, they distill the essence of warm, fuzzy, three-chord rock (with tasty flavors of punk, garage and American roots music) to its barest form, yet you never feel there's anything missing. Beneath all the imagery of B-movies, graveyards, zombies, and all that (not that there's anything wrong with it, but it makes honest music kinda kitschy), there are simple, rolling chords, understated melodies that hook you without having to push, pull, and impress you by throwing every variation at you in the finale. C'mon, you know the drill: start with a melody, cross bridges, circle around the chorus a few times 'til it's beaten into everyone's head, then, near the end, throw in a key change so you can milk it a few more times, then switch back and close it out by pulling out all the stops: change the timing of the lead yet repeat what you've been drilling away at for the last few minutes, perhaps repeat a few of the key ideas in rapid succession over the chorus, maybe change the last note from minor to major to get that dramatic thing happening, and maybe add yeah yeah yeahs or whoa whoa whoas just to fill the extra space...

Groovie Ghoulies realize that if it's done right the first time, there's no "extra space" -- there's a driving beat and a melody that purrs like a well-tuned car, and if ya wanna veer all over the road or mash the accelerator every so often to show what yer baby can do, fine, but it's not really necessary. Getting there is half the fun, and all the frills and recklessness are mostly to break up the monotony for those who can't get their machinery to purr in the first place. The Ghoulies do sometimes lapse into musical scenery that remains the same for a little too long (the kinda thing where you have to blink a whole bunch to "snap out of it" afterwards), but every road trip has its lulls.

To get out from under all the metaphors, Travels with My Amp is so stripped down (no keyboards, handclaps, or backup vocals/harmonies), it's like listening to "purified" tunes by The Queers, Riverdales, or any of the many knock-offs who really get what a few well-placed chords and a simple, flowing melody can achieve. And the funny thing is, with the ever-warm Mass Giorgini production, the power pop/garage/punkpop elements take a backseat to the very American singer/songwriter honesty. Very Earthy and natural-sounding, you find yourself singing the Neil Diamond-esque power melodies (not belted out, but certainly not apathetically mumbled) without feeling like, I dunno, David Spade in Lost & Found. (Anyone seen my cred? I seem to've just lost it.)

Lyrically, the Ghoulies best have usually been "(She's My) Vampire Girl" and "Graveyard Girlfriend" -- basically sweet love songs with zombie kitsch added -- but Travels with My Amp strikes a chord closer to home with "(The Girl is) An Unsolved Mystery" and "The Highwayman" ("5 & 95 go up & down/ 10, 80, 90 go East & West/ There's nothing I don't know about these roads/ And I'm willing to take a test..."). Stripping it down both musically and lyrically, the Groovie Ghoulies contribute yet another short full-length of melodic roadtrip tunes.


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