Listen Up: Wednesday, October 12, 2005
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PHOTOS: 1
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
World Leader Pretend

Punches (Warner Bros. Records)

The keyboard-based quartet World Leader Pretend earned more attention for being rescued from the Gulf Coast after Katrina than for their major-label debut album, Punches. While the two have no clear connection except bad timing, these four New Orleans natives seem destined to be remembered as, well, that band that was rescued after Katrina: Based on the soggy merits of Punches, they’ll be lucky to get anything more than reflected glory from a natural disaster.

The 14 songs here are permeated by a sense of good intentions mistaken for high ambition, with the confusion curdling into excessively arranged tunes with elaborate melodies and overcooked lyrics crammed full of topical and personal allusions. The whole mess never gels into a distinctive sound beyond the exhausted “alternative” label. It doesn’t help that lead singer, pianist, and keyboardist Doug Ferguson sounds like a cross between a young Neil Diamond and Rufus Wainwright. Wainwright’s hyper-developed sense of relationship drama is part of his unique charm, but even he sometimes pushes it with the lockjaw crooning. A drop of gay angst — hell, anything with a scintilla of personality and threat — could only help Ferguson’s falsettos, which ache with no clear sign of wounds. When an acoustic guitar-tinged duet called “Lovey Dovey” uses its title as a straight-faced term of endearment, it’s time to consult Morrissey’s encyclopedia of embittered romance metaphors. Other tunes are equally clichéd. “Punches” includes — God help us — what sounds like electronic finger snaps. The ominous prettiness of “The Masses” is pure sonic plasticine, while “Harps” is a 45-second instrumental dropped into an album that has too few complete ideas to support such indulgences. The inanely titled “Grammarian in a Medical Drama” nicely expresses the hollow precocity that hangs like a stinky perfume around World Leader Pretend. These guys should’ve jumped on the Ben Folds Five bandwagon a decade ago. — Jimmy Fowler


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