The Chinese Stars Listen to Your Left Brain

[Three One G/Skin Graft; 2007]

Styles: punk, funk, dancefloor junk
Others: The Rapture, Six Finger Satellite, Gang of Four, Radio 4, Four Tops (joke)

The practice of waxing nostalgic has long ceased being the exclusive domain of grandparents regaling their offspring's offspring with stories of 'days gone by.' It is now a proper pursuit for those barely out of their adolescence. Sociologists and psychologists began referring to those with 'Peter Pan Syndrome' in 1983, when Dr. Dan Kiley coined the phrase in his book The Peter Pan Syndrome: Men Who Have Never Grown Up. While females have their own version (The Wendy Dilemma), the 'affliction' is primarily attributed to males who are, as Becky Ebenkamp and Jeff Odiorne claim, "in their twenties and thirties [and who] are clamoring for comfort in purchases and products, and sensory experiences that remind them of a happier, more innocent time -- childhood."

If Peter Pan-ism is indeed a syndrome, then it is rampant. Never before has marketing products to both kids and adults been so intense and cut-throat. Twin-targeting of children and parents for video playthings, animated movies and television, books, and even music is taken for granted now, whereas before these sorts of things had clear age-dividing lines. It is not uncommon to have friends 'nesting' at their parents' homes for what seems like ages, and every university or college student has had the pleasure of taking a course that contains at least one older returnee student whom has already had four kids and four careers since her/his school days ended. When but now would we have ever needed to coin a phrase like 'kidult' to describe those fighting the schoolyard bully of adulthood with all their might?

Listen to Your Left Brain will add fuel to the fire for all of those who feel the flock of Peter Pans living among us need a good kick up the wazzoo to bring them back to reality. For the Peters and Wendys themselves, the album will be seen as an embraceable security blanket. Both sides will think they are right, and they both will be, to a certain extent. The sound is as contemporary as it comes, which to say it wears its influences on its sleeve and harks back to a different time, namely the early 1980s.

Eric Paul's lyrics are a heady mix of lovelorn lunatic and medicated romantic involving girls, drugs, girls, teenage malaise, girls, and cars that you will either love or hate. There are many who will wonder if this 30-something frontman has actually progressed past his high school mental state. Take for example: She looked like a gift on christmas day / with her blue eye shadow and a bottle of hair spray / I tried to get into her pants / but the teacher destroyed my teenage romance. Whether or not someone should be singing about such things at his age is not important; people of all shapes, age, sizes, and persuasions have been mining this particular fodder for lyrical gold since the practice of mining for lyrical gold began. For the record, methinks Paul is not suffering from any overweening Peter Pan Complex either, but is content to greet the onset of middle-age with a wink and a shrug of the shoulders instead of a fight.

There are a lot of checks to days gone by music-wise too. The almost laughable Big Country-esque riffs of "Bored With This Planet" (minus that bagpipey effect) and the numerous faux-popdisco licks and synth lines will have you anxiously looking over your shoulder for The Harlem Globetrotters and Energizer Bunny arriving at your door to deliver a shiny new Betamax. Closer "The Drowning" is bordering on downright creepy and annoying, but by the time you have realized that it has already burrowed into your psyche and gotten under your skin. The strangely choreographed playing of all the 'Stars fuses together to create a glorious mess. In fact, the whole album could be described as such (and a bit of a one-trick pony, too), but it's never dull.

If you think this line of reasoned reviewing is my way of setting up a poor album, you would be mistaken. The "mess" described above might sound like the worst thing possible, but it definitely isn't. One cannot help but smile and vibrate to the disco-fied Sonic Youth touch of something like "Cold Cold Cold," and while Paul's lyrics can grate if you are not in the mood for them, they are nothing if not entertaining. Listen to Your Left Brain, and The Chinese Stars in general, remind me of the Afghan Whigs. A dance-floor embracing, less cocky, more fun Afghan Whigs. For all of the supposed swagger and soul attributed to Greg Dulli's bygone band, The Chinese Stars possess both in spades. [I always had the same vibe about Six Finger Satellite too, and if The Chinese Stars have to be compared to either of the primary bands they were begat by, they grab more from the Six Finger Satellite tune-bag than the Arab On Radar one.]

What pulls The Chinese Stars away from being this decade's Van Halen (which, again depending on your particular bent, can be the highest accolade or the most disgraceful insult) is the pessimistic, oddball slant of the lyrics and the music. Despite what some will see as 'childish' lyrics, it is a decidedly negative album; however, sometimes those are the ones that affect the mature adult in each of us the most.

Childishness is exercised more and more in our society because the alternative is often about as attractive as stepping in a pile of dogshit. Many of the ideals once associated with adulthood (commitment, maturity, responsibility) have been depreciated into worthless end-goals. Daily life carries with it the sense of impermanence, and while a full-blown wish to live in Neverland is something entirely different and worrisome, surely there is room for some overlap between graduating from adolescence to 'olderescence.' All Chinese Stars are saying is to make sure to not throw away your youth just yet; it may be the only thing keeping you vital.

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