Seattle band Red Jacket Mine love their old new wave, and they are very, very good at it, almost to the point of parody. Their sound is period-perfect London 1979, right down to the overdone fake American drawl on the vocals- hearing this, you instantly envision a bunch of guys in skinny ties pilfering American soul music, occasionally giving it a hit of speed, a little Stonesy burn or Bowie-esque staginess. Their songs are insidiously catchy and don’t waste notes – ten tracks in 33 minutes or so. The band - Lincoln Barr on guitars and vocals, Matthew Cunningham on bass and Andrew Salzman on drums – is tight, their licks and instrumental settings (tasteful Memphis and Muscle Shoals guitar played cleanly through old tube amps, vintage borderline-cheesy electric piano) perfectly retro.
The best song on the album is the title track, a wry 99-percenter anthem that sounds like Red Shoes as Elvis Costello might have done it had he saved it for Get Happy instead of putting it on his first album. Another good one is Better to Be Broken Than Blind, which ironically outdoes all those old British guys in evoking the brooding early 70s soul ballad sound of the Stylistics: these guys spice it with brass and swirly organ from guest Ken Stringfellow. Many of the other tracks here sound a lot like Costello, musically if not lyrically. Let’s not forget that at the peak of Costello’s popularity, not everybody liked him for his vicious lyrics. A lot of people liked him because he was such a great pop tunesmith (and still is). That’s the crowd that will be psyched to discover this band.
With its fuzztone intro and staggered funk beat, Amy sounds like a song by the early Larch, or maybe a Mike Rimbaud b-side. The final track is a dead ringer for Rockpile. In between, when Red Jacket Mine does the blue-eyed soul thing, which is a lot of the time, they often remind of Graham Parker, especially on the wry, Memphis-tinged Nickel & Dime, or the brisk backbeat-driven Listen Up. And Skint City sounds like Costello’s Living in Paradise as a young Parker might have envisioned it. Ron Nasty, which is closer to new wave than soul, does not appear to be about the Speedball Baby frontman. The rest of the songs include the allusively country-flavored Novelty’s Gone, with a tasty organ crescendo from Daniel Walker; a faux honkytonk number like the ones on Costello’s Taking Liberties; and a Jean Genie ripoff. So many bands get criticized – and rightfully so – for being oblivious to music made before 1980. These guys seem oblivious to anything made afterward. But that’s ok. They aren’t missing much.