(Happy Happy Birthday to Me, CD)
Unbowed by contemporary trends, The Smittens  continue championing their sunny brand of ’60s pop. With a third album in tow, Burlington’s lo-fi quintet is now one of indie-rock’s “twee” torchbearers. And while the genre could use a name change, nobody’s condemning its musical merits: good vibes — dainty or not — are an easy sell these days. And The Coolest Thing About Love brims with saccharine sing-alongs.
Fronted by the cheerful tandem of Dana Kaplan and Colin Clary — who also moonlight as local duo Let’s Whisper — the five Smittens embrace an all-for-one vocal approach. From their effervescent doo-wop opener “The Interstate” to the dreamy Byrds-like pastiche of “Good to Go,” Love is a trip down memory lane. And fans can devour sly anachronisms along the way, such as cheeky references to getting “crunked.”
Romantics will swoon over the chirpy “C’mon!” and the wistful harmonies on “Half My Heart Beats,” the latter a winking little number that Danny Zuko might have crooned had he landed on the set of Juno. Even the coy “Something Sassy” — an upbeat indictment that says a lot without saying much of anything — is like a feisty “Sesame Street” carol: impossible to dislike. But beneath the jangly guitars and Holly Chagnon’s lively percussion, the messages are anemic. Neck-deep in rainbows, The Smittens fail to resonate beyond Max Andrucki’s baritone.
Still, they’re infectiously hopeful. “Let’s pretend that pop music might be the solution,” begs one boy Smitten. Cloying lyrics, to be sure. But karma’s clearly on their side. Only the creepy “Gumdrops,” with its “Romper Room” chorus, seems misplaced, like something a serial killer might play before feeding me my intestines.
Indeed, it’s The Smittens’ occasional perversity that raises eyebrows. They pull you in for a hug . . . and then land the sucker punch. One need look no further than the fuzzy Ramones-like cut “It’s a Saturday.” The spirited pep rally devolves suddenly from teenage treacle into a chant laden with F-bombs. It’s one of Love’s best songs, but mars the band’s sterling image. However, this duplicity keeps the album from falling into one-note caricature.
Kaplan and Co. are definitely “fi-curious,” as the band puts it; The Smittens spin plucky melodies when they’re not drowning in Kool-Aid. At a brisk 32 minutes, The Coolest Thing About Love is a sugary morsel of American pop that melts like cotton candy: tasty for some, a tummy ache for others.