The Poppin' Wheelies

The Poppin' Wheelies

Uranus Labs Records, 2001

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 09/26/2002

The Poppin' Wheelies are: (a) a new boy band sponsored by the American Motocross Association; (b) a high-concept musical cartoon with a "Star Wars meets Josie and the Pussycats by way of Scooby-Doo" feel; (c) a slang term for skate punks who do a lot of uppers. Now that you've had a chance to think about it, hold that thought.

Of all the good things that have happened musically in the year 2002 -- a category which in my mind includes a new Springsteen album, the ascendance of Jimmy Eat World, a terrific album from Sheryl Crow, and the replacement on the charts of the likes of Britney Spears with the likes of Michelle Branch - my favorite may still be a development which has yet to produce any new music at all. The Gin Blossoms are back.

For those who slept through the first half of the '90s, the Gin Blossoms were a five-man powerhouse pop-rock band out of Tempe, Arizona whose propulsive single "Hey Jealousy" conducted a gradual takeover of the charts in fall 1993. With just two major-label albums to their name (1992's New Miserable Experience and 1996's Congratulations I'm Sorry), they broke up all too soon in 1997. Five years later, they're back, having toured all this spring and summer, generating buzz and working on a 10th anniversary reissue of NME, a DVD retrospective, and, potentially, new music for '03.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

During their four-plus year hiatus, Blossoms members worked on a number of other projects, including the ill-fated Gas Giants, a promising band featuring Gin Blossoms singer Robin Wilson and drummer Phillip Rhodes that was among the victims of the great A&M Records implosion of 1998. Somewhere late in the GG era, Robin Wilson got an idea that he just couldn't let go of, combining his love of Saturday morning cartoons with his affection for the simple joys of under-appreciated power-popsters like Marshall Crenshaw.

Thus were born the Poppin' Wheelies, a space-age rock band who travel the universe in their GalactaVan (a vehicle that bears a distinct resemblance to the van pictured on the cover of New Miserable Experience), playing gigs on planets like Las Vega while being stalked by the Black Widow Comandress and her robot henchmen the Techno-Pops, who covet the Wheelies' enchanted guitar.

The Poppin' Wheelies is a truly odd disc, a soundtrack for a TV series that hasn't made it past the storyboard stage to date, whose booklet features vibrant full-color renderings of characters who thus far exist in Wilson's mind alone. Still, there's no denying the energy of the music or the joy Wilson - aided and abetted by Rhodes and Gas Giants guitarist (and fellow former Gin Blossom) Dan Henzerling - pours into it.

The tracks are a buoyant mix of Wilson originals and well-executed covers. Coming in for special attention are three tracks from undergound/semi-legendary '80s power-pop genius Tommy Keene. The fact that the Wheelies' lead singer/rhythm guitarist's name is "Tommy "appears to be less than coincidental, as most of the album comes off as an admiring Keene homage. That means three-minute songs with simple, catchy guitar riffs, upbeat yet searching lyrics, and unrelenting energy.

Wilson manages to work in a host of space-age references in songs like "Little Stars" that make you wish you had the whole cartoon in front of you instead of just six pages of artwork. Still, the flavor is there, as are the roots of the Blossoms' guitar-heavy sound. Foreshadowing this year's reunion, Blossoms guitarist Scott Johnson drops in to put the finishing touches on Wilson's fairly brilliant take on Keene's best-known cut, the ringing yet melancholy "Places That Are Gone." The fact that Wilson and Blossoms guitarist/harmony vocalist Jesse Valenzuela also guested on Keene's 2002 album The Merry-Go-Round Broke Down just cements the impression that Blossoms fans have a lot to thank Tommy Keene for.

Bottom line: while it's a brief (36-minute) little confection that lacks the emotional heft of a Gin Blossoms album, this is a truly fun album that any Blossoms fan will want to have in their collection. Hopefully someday we'll get to see Tommy, Danny, Tennessee, Otis and Cracky do their thing for real on the small screen…

Rating: B+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


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© 2002 Jason Warburg and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Uranus Labs Records, and is used for informational purposes only.