A Fistful Of Pills
The Pills have now put out three albums,
and about the only area in which they haven't steadily improved
is album cover design, and I may be biased, since I thought
the young woman on the cover of their debut was ultracute.
Otherwise, The Pills have done what bands are supposed to
do -- get better. As the band's songs get stronger and more
sophisticated, the punky mod energy that they unleashed on
their debut is still in plentiful supply. The Pills now harness
that energy so that it serves the songs without overwhelming
So you end up with a disc that can be favorably compared to
everything from early Elvis Costello & the Attractions
to the poppier stuff on Nuggets to The Undertones to
The Smugglers -- The Pills are that catchy, crackling and
clever. Exhibit A is the riff ridden "Slam Book",
with atypical screaming vocals and thick rhythm guitars panning
all over the speakers. The verses are the structured sounds
of things falling apart, while the bridge pulls things together
with the majesty of Guided By Voices, leading into a chorus
that is midway between Cheap Trick and The Young Fresh Fellows.
(Of course, I don't mean that they sound exactly like any
of these bands -- The Pills are comparable, not mere mimics).
Exhibit B is even better, and displays some of that sophistication
I was talking about above. "Brand New Pair of Eyes"
is a corker. This is a classic theme -- a guy telling his
ex that she's made a mistake, and he's still the only one
for her. Check out these clever observational lyrics: "Does
he know about the secret spot between your shoulder blades/does
he know to wrap his feet around your legs at night/does he
know about your student loans/or the way your favorite rocking
chair groans/as you rise to make the tea". The song also
has a classic build up from throbbing mid-tempo groove to
a blistering melodic guitar fueled chorus that shows an utter
command of dynamics (the guitars dropping out as the title
phrase is gently sung). Throw in the nifty keyboard dominated
middle eight and a final chorus that has that extra bit of
oomph to drive the song home...well, you have a goddamn great
This track is equaled by the marvelous "Kissing the Dirt".
The song starts off with an almost dub-like quality, with
Corin Ashley playing deftly on the bass, and Dave Aaronoff
providing multiple accents on the keyboards, including a cool
psychedelic "Strawberry Fields"-like part near the
end of the verse, that builds the bridge into the chorus.
And the chorus provides a big time release, as a bed of acoustic
guitars builds the melody into an exemplary pop-rock hook.
By the end of the track, that hook is monolithic. The Pills
other visits to the land of mellow don't venture out into
such rocking extremes, but both the sweet "Almost Inman
Square" (a Splitsville-worthy ballad) and "Rock
and Roll Heart" (which does rock, but in an appropriately
reserved way, with a great Beatleish touch at the end of the
chorus) provide further evidence that The Pills have two ace
songwriters (Ashley and guitarist David Thompson) who are
not slaves to fast tempos.
The creativity on display here makes me think that The Pills
are on par with so much of the wonderful music (incorrectly
tagged as New Wave, back in the day) of the early-80s,
where so many great bands, from The Undertones to The Boomtown
Rats, et al., accented their rock with other styles. Of course,
sometimes it's their jagged catchy riffs that evoke that era
-- for example, the dual guitar work on "Fighting Words"
is reminiscent of early Joe Jackson and the best of 999.
Topping it all off is a the crisp sound of the record -- the
band and Roger Lavallee handled the production chores quite
well. (Kudos to Lavallee for his work on the Marxaphone too,
though I don't have the slightest clue what that is). This
record shows how maturity is not a dirty word, particularly
when a band isn't wussing out. In addition to the aforementioned
Splitsville and The Undertones, you can also compare this
record favorably to bands such as Supergrass and The Wonder
Stuff. The Pills might not quite be at that level, but, if
not, they are really close, which is saying a lot.