NICK VENTURELLA – Sweetsonic
(2006 OatMeal Records)
Remember the dancing-in-the-library scene from The Breakfast Club? In one of the movie’s most memorable sequences, the detentionees bop and boogie on tables and atop bookshelves with delightful abandon while Karla DeVito’s “We Are Not Alone” plays. The opening track of Nick Venturella’s Sweetsonic, “1,000 Years,” makes me want to dance like that every single time I hear it, whether I’m listening in my living room (where I’ve admittedly given in to the temptation) or on the bus (where uninhibited dancing is frowned upon).
Truth be told, at least half the tunes on the CD have that very same effect. The Waukesha native’s fifth release finds him discarding some of the pretensions that weighed down earlier releases and channeling his inner BoDean. In addition to sharing the BoDeans’ hometown, he also shares their penchant for the ridiculously infectious pop song, especially the half penned by Kurt Neumann. “Everybody Knows” is a “Closer to Free”-style head-bopper, while “What Will Be Will Be” has the syncopated percussion of their “Texas Ride Song.”
While Venturella occasionally trips on a clunky lyric, e.g. “You’re feeling watched because I’m looking at you” (from “Everybody Knows”) or “Going out, getting ready / Meeting the guys for something heavy” (“Inside My Head”), he never quite falls, balancing them with almost too-clever one-liners like “Out at the club, I’m drinking for love” (also from the latter). Sure, it’s a song about hooking up (“Looking for more than simply a score / But today just won’t be the day”) but it comes off as sincere instead of sleazy.
The cubicle-dweller’s complaint of working for a living, “So I Go,” details the familiar cycle of work-party-sleep-work: “So I go to the movies / Where I can lose myself inside those doors / To the bar where I can drink myself / Right down to the floor / Back to work again / So I can pay for it all.” It has the same charming familiarity as the Bottle Rockets’ “Gotta Get Up.”
Fortunately, Venturella’s strategy of interspersing the dance parties with the reflective ballads and mid-tempo strummers gives you a chance to catch your breath. The best of these is probably “These Days,” which recalls the barefoot folk of Toad the Wet Sprocket’s Glenn Phillips, as does the optimistic closer “You and Me Against the World.” It is remarkable that the record invites comparisons to major-label artists since, as with all his previous releases, he did everything himself, from the songwriting to the artwork (appropriately enough, a Dum-Dum lollipop entwined in the strings of a guitar). When he notes, “I’m happy with this album because of what I was able to accomplish in spite of my limitations, which included using only two microphones, a digital mixer, MIDI controller and Apple’s GarageBand music software,” he’s not bragging. It seems he’s even impressed himself.