The ’90s were a strange time. But the decade that brought us everything from Urkel and Monica Lewinsky to reality television also gave us some terrific music. Sure, there were The Spice Girls and Britney Spears, but there were also great bands that made a huge impact, bands whose influence can still be heard today, such as Nirvana, Rage Against the Machine and Smashing Pumpkins. And it’s that last band that seems to have had the greatest impact on Shane Kirk and his band, The Wee Lollies.
Kirk’s voice bears an uncanny resemblance to that of Billy Corgan, and the loud/soft dynamic at work on much of The Wee Lollies’ first full-length album, “Tsar Bomba,” certainly calls to mind the Pumpkins at their “Siamese Dream” peak. But Kirk is also a talented songwriter in his own right with a gift for hooks and melody. And he also happens to be backed up by a tight, crackling band that helps elevate the album above the level of a mere tribute record.
A down-tuned, fuzzed-out guitar is the first sound one hears on “Tsar Bomba,” but the production is crisp and balanced, so the guitars don’t dominate the mix. Vocals and guitars are right up front, and bass and drums form a solid and stable foundation without sounding muddy.
On the opening track, “Letting Go,” Kirk’s gentle yet earnest lead vocals and some nicely blended harmonies add a pop sensibility to what otherwise might have been an exercise in derivative grunge. “A Bientot” continues in much the same vein, but with acoustic guitar providing some lovely contrast to the distortion, and a bit of reverb on the electric guitars adding a touch of pop psychedelia.
“Never Know” and “1000 Wonders” are perhaps the hookiest and most radio-friendly tracks, the former sporting some charming falsetto vocals and a beautifully melodic guitar solo. The down-tempo “Peony” suffers from a lack of hooks and a slightly clumsy lyric, but a pretty bit of piano/guitar interplay toward the end of the song keeps things fresh and interesting. “Cut Me Down” is a better ballad, with Kirk displaying a surprisingly versatile vocal range.
A Pixies-esque loud/soft dynamic is in full effect on “Dizzywiggle,” propelled by George Casivant’s prominent bass line. The loud guitars come roaring back at the chorus, and it’s here that one wishes the production weren’t quite so smooth. These guitars definitely need a little crunch!
“The Same” is a pleasant surprise, a gorgeous country-tinged ballad that stands out as the most un-Pumpkins-like track on the record. It also contains some of Kirk’s best lyrics, with the repeated line of “It’ll never be the same” toward the end of the song perfectly capturing a mood of loss and regret. Album closer “Maide Meridian” is similar in tone but folkier, with no drums and simple, sad acoustic guitars. A haunting cello provides the perfect melancholy touch.
While it’s true The Wee Lollies definitely wear their influences on their sleeves, that fact shouldn’t take away from what the band has accomplished on “Tsar Bomba.” As the group’s first full-length, it serves as an excellent calling card for a band that’s off to an terrific start, the opening salvo in what will no doubt be a long and productive career.
Watching and listening as this band grows and develops its own style is going to be great fun. Keep an eye on this band big things are in store for The Wee Lollies.
You can buy “Tsar Bomba” at Bull Moose locations in southern Maine, with online sales at iTunes and Amazon coming soon. Find more details and keep up with the latest band news at theweelollies.com.
Rick Johnson is a freelance writer and radio host from Westbrook. He can be reached at: