NEVER A GOOD TIME - The Avatars (No Fun Records)
Tough and slinky in leather jackets with hard-lovin' melodies, The Avatars don't ask themselves in as much as barge through the speakers with a level of urgency many bands at their level would pawn their headliner's rider for. A five-piece from Greater Michigan, this is the debut album and follow-up to their "Wait" 45, one of the best slabs of rock-pop to spend time on the turntable in these parts in 2005. The long-player lives up to expectations.

If you called them pop you might just get a clip around the ears, although The Avatars do have a strong melodic streak running right through them (the hard soul of "There Was a Time" being a prime example). It's a yearning to do rockier things with their talents, however, that seems to dominate these 11 tracks (10 plus a hidden one), but it's never pushed over the edge at the expense of the songs.

The sharp-eyes might notice Chris "Box" Taylor on guitar and this is the Powertrane bassist's other band. He's no stranger to guitar, having plied six-strings for Ann Arbor surf-spacerock-punkers Mazinga a few years ago. His better half, Theresa Kiefer, is the dab hand on bass in this outfit, and the rest of the engine room is ably populated by another lady in Claudia Leo. When these two lock in, it's a great thing. Charlie Lorenzi is the other guitarist and Mariah Cherem is the striking vocal presence behind the mic.

Mariah Cherem has a warm and sultry substance about her voice that does the collaboratively-written tunes justice. Plug yourself into the opening track ("Honey Do") or the single and tell us we're wrong. Lorenzi and Taylor rely on economy in their lead breaks to get their point across and neither dominates the other. The coupling is incendiary on a song like "Revolution Revival", which sounds like a cross between the BellRays' "Detroit Breakdown" and "Kick Out the Jams".

"Wondering Why" could be The Added Rock Credibility Ingredient for the soundtrack to any number of boy-meets-girl movies that clean up at the box office these days despite their lameness. A tremendous, driving pop-rocker. And the hidden track is good, if I knew it's name I'd buy it a beer.

While I'm not going apeshit over the production which could haver done with a little more instrumental separation, the dirty mesh of the guitars and irresistible flow of the bottom end ultimately does suit. I just wish the obvious call-and-response hook hadn't been buried so deep in the mix on "Sooner Or Later" (which works anyway). Occasional guest contributions (Johnny Hentch on keys, Eric Stollsteimer on vibraphone and Jermey Abbey on sax) keep it interesting - not that any of the songs drag. You even get a touch of cowpunk for your money with "Warm .44".

No less a judge than Scott Morgan has been watching these guys (girls) and reckons they've progressed in leaps and bounds. Dunno how far their touring aspiration run but it seems like The Avatars are screaming out for a wider audience. Do your part in spreading the word by plonking down your heard-earned for a copy of their album. - The Barman