October 15, 2002

Menthol "Danger: Rock Science!"

The other night, I really couldn't sleep, so I thought I'd sit down and do some writing. While I was doing that, I thought I'd pop on a record to listen to. The record I chose, Menthol's new album, Danger: Rock Science! proved to be a disturbing choice for insomnia soundtrack music. See, when I was a kid, I kept rather odd hours, and often I would be up all night, listening to the radio. Of course, when I was a kid, it was the early to mid 80s, and the music I'd hear would be stuff like Cars, Duran Duran, Thomas Dolby, Devo, Madonna, Pet Shop Boys---you know, the stuff that was total pop and is now hip "retro 80s music."

Like the Faint's most-excellent Blank-Wave Arcade, Menthol's M.O. is to rock out. Of course, many of you may or may not remember Menthol from the mid-90s, when the band signed to Capitol during alternative's "heyday," and they released an album of pretty righteous guitar-rock with a power-pop beat--then disappeared into the night, unloved and not really missed. Turns out they were in major-label legal hell, working on a new record--and they came up with this album, to which the label balked at it sounding "too 80s retro." Things happened, they returned to their former label, Hidden Agenda, and rerecorded the album.

You wouldn't know that it wasn't recorded on a shoestring budget, though. Balthazar de Lay's got that voice that simply sounds like money--much like Simon LeBon's or Thomas Dolby's, you can just hear his intelligence and his class when he sings. Of course, hearing this next to their previous album, you'd be shocked at the change! Instead of the rock, there's new wave, with some sweet guitars thrown in. At times I have to pinch myself, because at times they sound not unlike the Cars. But they do all of this without sounding as if they're stuck in the past. That's the beauty of Danger: Rock Science!. You've heard these kinds of sounds before, but you've never heard them quite this good. Not as annoying or boring as The Faint, but they're not as unoriginal as that Cars cover band I saw about five years ago. You could probably put Menthol on stage in front of an audience of 30-somethings, tell them that this band had hits on the radio in the eighties, and not only would the audience not know the difference--they'd probably claim to remember these songs the first time around!

When I took a road trip last week, I listened to Danger: Rock Science!. I then listened to it again..and again...and again, because the album's 38 minutes just go by really..really...fast! So fast, that I wanted to be blown away again and again. As I was driving, I particularly developed a love of "New Recruits," due to his Richard Butler-esque singing, but then I also heard someone whose name and music I hadn't thought of in 15 years: Peter Case!! That's when it really struck me--Danger: Rock Science! isn't the sound of Menthol changing their style. No no, Menthol are still the same power-pop-rock band of old, they've just matured their style, and if it sounds "retro," it's not meant as such. Power-pop didn't mature, it stood still, and Menthol--I swear that Menthol are the sound of the Plimsouls with computer programming.

Gee, maybe they haven't really changed their sound at all. Welcome back, Menthol.

--Joseph Kyle

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