Local “carny-rock” outfit The Dirtminers have the dubious distinction of being the only band in history to have had one album reviewed twice in the pages of Seven Days. Frankly, it’s because I totally goofed and didn’t realize American Typewriter had already received the once-over prior to my arrival at the paper. Oops. But the slip-up had the unintended effect of shedding light on an intriguing critical conundrum. Namely, two different sets of ears will often hear two distinctly different versions of the same thing. While my take was that “the quartet trades in quirky, riff-laden pop, centered around catchy guitar hooks and subtly charming lyrics,” reviewer Adam King was less than enamored with the effort and largely panned it, writing that front man Raph Worrick “comes across as a mountain boy trying his best at delicate pop.” Ouch.
Well, Worrick is back, along with Dirtminers cohort Matt Rogalsky, as The Plastic Billionaires. At times endearingly odd and at others frustratingly silly, their debut effort, Subprime, is practically the sonic embodiment of the dichotomic Dirtminers reviews.
The disc’s opening track, “Jody,” is a poppy little tune with shades of Exile on Main Street-era Stones laced with subtle, atmospheric synth parts. Lyrically, the song is nothing to write home about, as is unfortunately the case in numerous — though certainly not all — instances throughout the album.
Next up is “Absolution,” which eerily recalls early Dire Straits with Worrick a passable Mark Knopfler — vocally, anyway. Unlike on the previous track, the duo is in fine songwriting form here. Heartfelt and moving, it’s the most ambitious cut on the record and is impeccably executed.
“The Girl in the Iron Lung” is a one of the most bizarrely sweet love songs you’ll ever hear (CLICK TO LISTEN). Employing what sounds like a sitar — no album credits of any kind are given, aside from joint songwriting — the tune has a psychedelic bent that lends itself nicely to the subject matter: an aging rock star falling for a terminally ill twentysomething in, you guessed it, an iron lung.
“Kinda Creepy” is a straight-up Mule Variations-era Tom Waits knockoff — or pastiche, I suppose, depending on your critical mindset.
The remainder of the album constitutes an alternating string of hits (“Old Silly Love Songs,” “Newest Song” and album closer “Serenade”) and misses (“Fried Chicken N Hoppin’ John,” “Little Bit Dizzy”).
Subprime was recorded in one month — February, at that — as part of a recent competition sponsored by rpmchallenge.com. Though not without considerable promise, the project could have benefited from a little more time in the incubator. March has 31 days, right? The album is available Radiohead-style — i.e., pay what you think it’s worth — on the band’s website, www.plasticbillionaires.com.