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Worcester Telegram Gazette Review
The Charms plays like a band that knows that this is its shot at the big time. And with its fourth disc, “Strange Magic,” the Somerville garage rockers will put unsuspecting listeners under their spell and make them collectively sigh, “Ellie Vee, where have you been all my life?”
Consisting of the aforementioned singer songwriter Ellie Vee, as well as guitarist Joe Wizda, bassist Mark Nigro, keyboardist Ethan Jon Kreitzer and drummer Prince Frederick, the Charms emerge as liberators in the age of false American Idol worship on the leadoff track, “American Way.” Taking potshots at government lies and television manufacturing “pop tarts with candy lips,” Vee wants to shake society out of its cable-ready, brain-numbing compliance. And what better way to do that than rocking with reckless abandon?
The Charms pays homage to the power pop combo the Romantics (with whom it recently toured) on the album’s first single, “So Romantic.” And the result is what the Romantics would have sounded like if quirky ’80s singer Josie Cotton fronted it. Asking the musical question, “Oh what do I have to do to get to you?” Vee pleads for our affection, despite the fact that she had us with the singalong chorus.
Vee makes a bitter toast to her two-timing boyfriend on the infectious kiss-off “Here’s to You.” Simultaneously giddy and aghast by the betrayal, Vee chastises her boyfriend for being threatened by a strong-willed woman. And when she’s speaking strong-willed woman, you know that Vee isn’t talking malarkey. Vee declares her independence with a cavalcade of roaring guitars and pounding drums, making her cynical toast one that real rock lovers can rally behind.
“Cold War” is a crazed, rockabilly number that sounds like the dream merging of Joan Jett backed up by Eddie Cochran on guitar and Jerry Lee Lewis on piano. With a tongue-in-cheek nod to Cochran’s “Summertime Blues,” Vee plans to take her romantic woes to the United Nations. Playing John F. Kennedy to her boyfriend’s Nikita Khrushchev, Vee throws diplomacy to the wind in the lines, “Oh, oh, you wanna fight/Oh, oh, oh, well I don’t fight nice/Now that you’re out and now that you’re done/It’s a cold war.”
The title track, “Strange Magic,” gives a glimpse of what the Go-Go’s would have sounded like if Belinda Carlisle was replaced by Divinyls’ Christina Amphlett. Proving that Vee’s reminiscences are even retro, this irresistible, new wave throwback celebrates “sunny day hi fi memories” of cruising in one’s favorite car equipped with a trusty tape deck.
The Charms serves up a healthy dose of hedonistic, head-banging hanky panky on “Touch.” Aspiring to be the female equivalent to AC/DC’s “You Shook Me,” this ode to a lover who pushes all the right buttons erupts with plenty of sex-kitten-in-heat vocals and heavy, arena rock guitar riffage.
“The Wolf” is a naughty rocker about big black cars, moonlight drives and insatiable appetites. Accompanied by crunchy guitar riffs, locomotive bass lines, swirling Farfisa keyboards and crashing drum beats, Vee howls out how she’s ready to give her man what he wants when he wants it, while the male listeners out there hope she’s talking to them.
With its cushiony vocals, twangy acoustic guitars and world-weary lyrics of heartache and disappointment, the album’s closer “She’s Waiting,” will undoubtedly appeal to the coffeehouse crowd. However, when you’re caught up in a Charms record, the last thing you want to hear is some Sixpence None the Richer knockoff. True, it’s nice that Vee’s adept at singing, “Oh, she’s waiting/waiting on you boy,” but it’s so much more fun when she is turning men into mincemeat and/or getting her male suitors hot under the collar.