While anyone can write a pop song (see Hanson), few can create a well-crafted, well-loved ditty that isn't repulsive upon first listen. Unfortunately, Los Angeles's Sugar Spun hasn't figured that out, as its debut is a cliché-filled exercise in simplicity. It's quite fitting that Sugar Spun named its debut disc after the infamous intersection that was once known as a place for discovering stardom, but has become better known as stomping grounds for the homeless and prostitutes. Sugar Spun spends the majority of its time attempting to capture the seediness of the Hollywood landmark with a pop/alt/folk delivery that's actually quite tame and not far removed from has-beens like the Gin Blossoms.
The tired storylines played out on Hollywood and Vine include songs about runaways ("Peter"), abusive parents ("Mary in the Morning"), and Jerry Springer ("Talk Show"). Sugar Spun spoonfeeds -- with a ladle -- these trials and tribulations in a manner that's so heavy-handed, it's insulting. The band's approach toward songwriting -- which yields insipid lines like "Sister's got a problem resulting from a one night stand and I'm on the talk show/TV man says he's going to give me a grand" (from "Talk Show") -- doesn't exactly grab your attention.
And then there's singer-guitarist Anthony "Nino" Juarez's effeminate vocal delivery. From the upbeat opener "Home" to his futile attempt at sincerity on "Ever Since You Left," Juarez sounds as if he's delivering his vocals in a calculated Chrissie Hynde/Meredith Brooks/Linda Perry style. Maybe he's going after the Lilith crowd. It doesn't matter, though, because his vocals destroy whatever brief moments of promise are displayed on Hollywood and Vine. The title track itself is a good example of something positive gone awry. Jangly chords begin the song and briefly build momentum, before Juarez's talk-style delivery deflates the moment so that, when he sings "It's 6 a.m. on Hollywood and Vine/Got my coffee and I'm doing fine/Say hello to Marilyn Monroe and Lucille Ball and Elvis you know/All the stars dressed up in a line," his name-dropping gives the song a commercial, jingle-like feeling. Pass.
-- John Benson