Diamond Nights, ‘Popsicle’ (Kemado)

What kind of art does America want when the country falls on hard times — say, an increasingly unpopular war? One theory is that the public will escape from current events through pure nostalgia. Another line of thinking says people will develop a newfound appetite for introspective, artistically meaningful entertainment that mirrors their somber mood.

Well, Diamond Nights’ full-length debut pretty much affirms the first hypothesis — and tears the latter idea a new one. Unlike other groups who use ’70s riffs and references to comment on the Me Decade, the Queens, New York residents’ gleeful retro-ness comes off as a direct product of that era: Nothing on Popsicle sounds like it was made after 1978.

Which means the album’s a hoot at times — a cinnamon-scented throwback assembled from the factory remnants of Cheap Trick, Van Halen, and Raspberries, full of expensive gas and cheap weed. The opening track, “Destination Diamonds,” is a galloping anthem that’s probably destined for some year-end best-singles lists. And deservedly so: Singer Morgan Phalen sounds like he’s taken voice lessons from Thin Lizzy’s Phil Lynott on lines like “Never thought that a Popsicle chick could taste so good,” which he delivers as if he’s actually licking drips off the mic. On the roller-rink hip-grinder “City of Love,” Phalen beckons, “Take a trip with me,” a great setup for rhyming something with fantasy. Later, they drop the cock-rock shenanigans for the sunny acoustic ballad “Snakey Ruth.”

Oddly enough, all this arena-rock grab-ass lacks irony. Kudos to the band for playing up its love of the classics without smirking, but the downside is that Popsicle‘s ’70s conceits aren’t as fun as a band like the Darkness makes them (or as funny as Van Halen were, even after they stopped trying to be). Maybe Diamond Nights’ face-value nostalgia kills its value as a guilty pleasure. Or maybe pleasure is just not what it used to be.

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