The Groovie Ghoulies dress like the Munsters and sound like the Ramones -- anything beyond this description risks redundancy. Not that the band seems to care. Dice up a midtempo rhythm, mix in three or four distorted chords, sprinkle with some throwaway lyrics about lost love or Frankenstein's foxy daughter, cook for anywhere from 45 seconds to three minutes, add garnish, and serve. That, in a nutshell, is the formula the Ghoulies have followed on each of their six albums.
Their latest Lookout! release, Travels With My Amp, neither advances nor retreats from the Ghoulie mantra, melding the unflinching pop-punk aesthetic with Halloween shtick. The band looks as if it has stolen Bela Lugosi's old wardrobe and borrowed Marilyn Manson's makeup kit. To distract the kids, it whips candy into the audience during its live performances. As the Ramones defiantly proved, playing predictable pop punk can pay off splendidly. While the Ghoulies' hearts are certainly in the right place, they lack charisma. Jeffrey "Kepi" Alexander's nasal vocals are pedestrian, and his lyrics fail to fully exploit the Munsters angle.
Previous releases served up some extremely wry humor, liberally quoting Carly Simon and dropping song titles such as "Don't Make Me Kill You Again." Travels lacks this sort of mischief, but there are a few notable exceptions. "Criswell Predicts" might be the first pop-punk tune about an all-female self-sufficient utopian society (as for the men, "You'll be lucky to be used for seed," Kepi forewarns). And covering Jonathan Richman's "Dancing Late at Night" is a stroke of brilliance, though the tune's infectious melody and deft lyrical structure immediately gives away the fact that it's a cover. The Ghoulies have a good thing going -- the "Munsters with Guitars" act beats the hell out of some self-aggrandizing, mopey alt-rock act any day. They just need to travel a bit more extensively, instead of writing the same old song, over and over.
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