This Have You Ever Seen the Jane Fonda Aerobic VHS review was written by Jessica Otterwell, a GIGsoup contributor
You’re at a party. The kind of party where someone thinks it’s a great idea to mix cheap vodka with cheap wine and the whole mix spews forth an hour later. Yes, that kind of party. One where you look back at photos and everyone is young and raucous, memories have been made and it makes you smile. The soundtrack to that party would be HaveYou Ever Seen the Jane Fonda Aerobic VHS’s debut album, ‘Teenage Sweetheart.’ It kicks off with a mighty scream (‘Shoes’) and charges ahead from there. Sounds clamour, clash and blend but throughout it never forgets a sense of pop hook or melody.
The band probably should win a prize for the most original band name of recent times, if not the most original music; for this is formulaic indie pop and doesn’t throw any curve balls into the mix. It plays as though someone has thrown all the elements that make up an indie band into a blender and this is the end result. You know what you’re going to get and its melodic cacophony never fails to deliver exactly what you would expect.
Clearly someone was given a Casio keyboard for Christmas and is very proud of that fact. It features heavily on every single track, calling to mind references to Maximo Park and fellow Nordic pop influenced acts, Those Dancing Days and I’m from Barcelona to name but a few. By the time ‘Be My Baby’ starts, two songs in, the trumpet sound effect has been discovered and the band doesn’t look back, adding every other instrument (synthetic or real) on the rest of the album.
An example of this, ‘Fidel’s Bike,’ features a Kazoo. Yes, you read that correctly, a Kazoo. Years ago I had a running joke with a friend that he should add a Kazoo to his band to round out the sound. I no longer speak to that person, which should really tell you everything you need to know about the effectiveness of adding a Kazoo to your sound.
That’s not to say this is a terribly bad album, it’s just a little bit of an underwhelming debut. It features the kind of music for a sunny day, with the windows flung open; you can dance around drunk on the promise of hope and possibility. While the sounds blend, they mostly blend into one very similar sounding song. Nostalgia has a place here, raw edged vocals at once reminiscent of Poly Styrene with a sprinkling of the doo-wop harmonies of Martha and the Vandellas or even early sixties rock ‘n’ roll.
The band know this works but aren’t afraid to modernise their sound, if ever so slightly. Hinting at past eras is fine but no one could accuse them of not having a foot in the present, they are quite clearly a young, fresh band. So fresh in fact they appear to have coined their own genre, ‘flower garage’, of which they are the sole inhabitants.
Lyrically things are kept light and un-confrontational for the most part. That is, until ‘Family Man.’ Here, you scratch the surface and some depth starts to show. The juxtaposition of the jaunty keyboard with the lyric, “you used to talk about hanging out, now you’ve got a wife and five children and a mortgage loan you can’t pay,” delivered in breathy vocals, gives a hint that there might be substance underneath the sugar. It is a track that stays with you and this has to be one of the reasons it was chosen as the first single. It stands up on its own as a representation not only of where the band are now, but where they could go.
Whether they have any real longevity remains to be seen. They certainly fall into a catalogue of bands doing similar things currently and having success, Menace Beach being one example.
‘Teenage Sweetheart’ is an album that delivers what it claims to, either as nostalgia for being young and carefree or it speaks directly to an audience who are young and carefree; high on first crushes, young love and cheap alcohol. Listening with this in mind, the band never professed to offer anything more than fun, not unlike a summer fling that you still can’t forget in the Indian summer of September. As a debut it’s a dreamy, waltzing nostalgia trip which is great while it lasts and has its standout moments but is ultimately a forgettable piece of Finish indie-pop by way of a garage.