Comparing these English popsters' first two full-length slabs to Baltimore Oriole outfielders, Play Deep is to Adam Jones as Bangin' is to Nick Markakis. It's a push, really. Both residents of 2110 Eutaw Street have been putting up big numbers during the O's' current five-game winning streak. Likewise, the albums' lineup cards are inked with cut after cut of undeniable catchiness. Historians might argue that Play Deep enjoyed more success between the lines of radio airplay and fielded a Hall of Fame pop gem ("Your Love") with a hook more irresistible than an Earl Weaver opportunity to swear at an ump. Bangin' sent one single to the plate ("Since You've Been Gone"), but the other nine potential All-Stars weren't even given the chance to aim for the fences. If only there'd been a better manager...
Two of the reasons why Dirty Sheets exists: During Josh's days as skipper for the still-missed Now Wave Magazine, we exchanged numerous e-mails concerning music, sports and food -- a practice still continued on the walls of Facecrack and in other dugouts. One of the inquiries posed to Lord Rutledge: "What do you think of The Outfield?" His response: "They're great wimpy pop!" The banter hadn't been intended as a litmus test for a future DS teammate, but I now smile at the scouting report on what constituted "good" and "bad" music. My "Thrift Scores" piece in Holly Womack's Fresh Rag 'zine circa 2002 also served as Triple-A training for DS. In the review of The Outfield's debut disc, I wrote: "You might think I regard Play Deep as one of the finest one-through-nine-inning collections of WRV T-shirt rock in the record books. You'd be correct in your analysis there, southpaw." Stealing another base from FR: "A swing to the warning track demonstrates (The Outfield) have an MLB-level of craftsmanship akin to first-stringers The Police and Big Country." Go ahead and add Journey's double-play duo of "Stone In Love" and "Anytime" to the squad. Send aging "stars" "Don't Stop Believin'" and "Open Arms" to the showers.
Nine years later, Bangin' is worthy of an examination by the Veterans Committee. "Since You've Been Gone" smears the dirt of denial ("An' I know you're coming back") on the cleats of intense loneliness. If this had been struck by The Police, they would've slammed a four-bagger. "Moving Targets" has Johnny Marr-like jangle behind the plate in spots, even though it lacks Morrissey-style lyrical pitches from the mound. "Playground" swings its lumber with monkey-bar guitars and see-saw drums a la Play Deep's "All My Love" and "Say It Isn't So." Joe DiMaggio would've respected the "This isn't meant to be a backseat love affair" line in the near-power pop "Better Than Nothing," but I'm not so sure about Phil Rizzuto and Meat Loaf.
Calling Bangin' "a bat out of hell" would be a misnomer. All the same, the grip feels pretty good.