Fresh off a tour on which they served as both the opening act and backing band for ex-Kinks frontman Ray Davies, L.A.-based quartet the 88 sounds properly energized on their new, self-titled album. Given the extent to which they draw from the sound of the British Invasion, the pairing between the 88 and Davies couldn’t have been more spot-on or inspired. The 88 is the band’s fourth record of outsized power-pop, and the album’s best moments invite favorable comparisons to at-peak Kinks in addition to more contemporary pop acts like Fountains of Wayne and Brendan Benson.
That’s not such bad company for a band to keep, though the 88 remains too derivative for their own good. Still, what they lack in innovation, they make up for in massive hooks and some fantastic pop melodies. Opener “Center of the Sun” makes terrific use of a Hammond B3 that’s placed at the forefront of the mix, sounding like it’s trading licks with Keith Slettedahl’s jangly electric guitar and building to a cacophonous, abrupt climax. Lead single “They Ought to See You Now,” on which Davies provides harmony vocals, is even better. Both a blistering kiss-off and a delectable pop confection, the single makes for a note-perfect ‘60s homage, right down to the tambourine break in the final verse.
Songs like “As Far as I Can See” and “After Hours,” both of which are driven by thundering piano power chords, also demonstrate the 88’s strong commercial bent. Indeed, most of the songs on The 88 sound tailor-made for use in advertisements or in movie montage sequences. But that doesn’t always work in the band’s favor: These songs are appealing, but “Automatic Brain” and “Dead on the Water” aren’t distinctive enough to command much attention on their own merits, even if they could do wonders to sell a smartphone in a TV spot.
Whether or not that translates into actual album sales is another matter entirely. The 88 is a likable record, and the 88 brings considerable energy and passion to their performances, but even at their best, the band doesn’t do anything that distinguishes them from other power-pop acts. The 88 may be self-titled, but bands like Rooney and Hockey are making plenty of other records just like it.