During the salad days of Rock Is Back version 1.0, New York’s Mooney Suzuki only had the trash-talking Star Spangles for competition as the boomlet’s lamest outfit. “In a young man’s mind it’s a simple world,” frontman Sammy James Jr. sang on 2002’s Electric Sweat, “There’s a little room for music / And the rest is girls.” In one cringe-worthy sound bite (and one derivatively scruffy sound), James drowned out his band’s high-octane crunch by identifying neogarage rock as nothing but a bratty boys’ club.
Meanwhile, over in Red Pillville, the three Los Angelesbased songwriters/producers known as the Matrix were challenging Linda Perry as the go-to guys for teen popsters in search of live-band crackle. Signature hits like Avril Lavigne’s “Complicated” and Hilary Duff’s “So Yesterday” were mini-masterpieces of high-wire, post-pubescent tension, and their Swan job on Liz Phair’s latest redefined the indie-world makeover. Miraculously, the Mooney Suzuki recognized that sugar-sharp epiphany is what garage rock’s supposed to be about, so they hired the Matrix to helm their follow-up. The band has since claimed that the process was a “war,” but the result is the sweetest, cleanest grunge ambrosia since Urge Overkill’s 1993 major-label bid, Saturation.
It’s not just the producers’ neon-hard sound that brightens Alive & Amplified, though that helps (Jack White couldn’t improve the title track’s steel-wool riffs and helium-voiced squeals with all the ancient mixing desks in Detroit). Rather, the Mooney Suzuki have transcended retread scruffiness to storm the gates of ’70s-kitsch Valhalla.”New York Girls,” a photocopy of a photocopy of a song Brian Wilson left in a sandbox, shoots from sleazy boogie-guitar intro to honky-château verse to triumphant chorus to acappella bit complete with cheesy above-the-head handclaps.”Naked Lady,” a power ballad as over-the-top excellent as any by Tenacious D, keeps piling up lighter-waving signifiers but wisely climaxes before it collapses. Two songs, “Legal High” and “Love Bus,” even start with the same killer riff before diverging into equally creamy centers. Sometimes the genuine fake is all the real you need.