PAWN SHOPPE HEART – The Von Bondies (Sire)
Is that the smell of critical backlash? The Von Bondies might have spent half their existence in the shadows of their big brother/sister band, The White Stripes, but the minute they step into the limelight and spit out their second album, they’re struck down by the indie crowd – and all because they’re on a major label.

It’s a view that's been promulgated on various mailing lists and message boards, if not in the critiques by mainstream music writers. It’s a damn shame when an exclusionist, hipper-than-thou outlook causes otherwise reasonable people to rail against indie bands made good…especially when they can’t put their collective finger on the reasons for their anger.

Of course it’s the major label thing. Plus the odd puzzling Jason Stollsteimer quote (like, how can you deny being a band from Detroit when you namecheck your home town in “Broken Man”, for chrissake?) Seems it’s more important to judge “Pawn Shoppe Heart” by the music, and it’s a mighty fine disc.

“Pawn Shoppe Heart” sounds slicker than some might have liked (blame producer Jerry Harrison), but this Detroit four-piece churn out a vibrant mix of garage glam that stands out from the crowd.

Random observations: “C’mon C’mon” is either the catchiest song of 2004 or the most annoying (time will tell). Some of the melodramatics don’t bear repeated listens (I’m thinking “the angst-ridden Mairead” here). You can make a case that the VBs extend themselves, just a little too far in some of their songs, and Stollsteimer has a tendency to slip into a vocal style reminiscent of The Man Who Sang Joey Ramone to His Grave (aka Bono). The songs are strong enough, on balance, to outweigh those reservations.

Anyway, can anyone tell me what’s wrong with a major label shoving raucous guitar down the throats of an unsuspecting public? It’s out-of-character and more often then not their motivation is base and purely ROI (that’s Return on Investment). But what’s not to like about the guitar squall of “No Regrets”, the garage bounce of “Not That Social” (bassist Carrie Smith’s star turn) and “Fever” or the relentless surge of “Crawl Through the Darkness”?

It’s not deep and it’s not going to turn world politics or cure cancer, but it’s rock and roll, OK? The Von Bondies have made a good, maybe even great album. Dig it on its merits.
– The Barman