IT WAS IN 1977, The Year of the Anti-Christ, that Shoes released their official debut, Black Vinyl Shoes, on their own private label. In its original form, this amateurish album remains as elusive as Big Star's Third. Yet it merely whimpered on the sidelines in the same year as the Sex Pistols' Never Mind The Bollocks – and never have two worlds been farther apart.
The chasm separating the Sex Pistols and Shoes, their first albums, and their audiences is significant, for it's the gap that continues to divide rock groups within the framework of the meaningless demarcation, "New Wave." In a sense, it is the wound in a culture that may never heal (self-righteous product vs. punk's self-righteousness). Clearly, in terms of the mass consensus, bands like Shoes have won hands-down.
There's no shamefulness to this fact (although, for some, it may be hard to swallow); it simply must be understood within the context of a homogeneous movement, within the confines of repression. As Greil Marcus has astutely written, "The secret message behind the election of November 4th was that some people belong in this country, and some people don't." If indeed there is a return to normalcy in America, then Shoes is as good a band as any to mark such a cultural transition.
Theirs is a remarkable achievement – a polished plateau of sound where every new record seems as wholesome as the previous one. On Tongue Twister, Shoes' third, their music became full-blown and more expansive; there are no jumbled nerves as on Black Vinyl or hectic rhythms as on Present Tense. In fact, on all twelve cuts (all approximately three minutes), there's not one second of hesitation, as if to do so would confirm what must remain hidden: the band's persistent state of adolescence.
After all, what fundamentally may be so appealing about these four young men's music is that Gary Klebe, Jeff and John Murphy, and Skip Meyer refuse to let go of their overaged teenage psyches (a once-common affliction that, unfortunately, is becoming increasingly uncommon). This should not be interpreted as an insult; on the contrary, it's quite refreshing to hear a band that still possesses a keen sense of the delicate magic of the Beatles' 'Do You Want To Know A Secret' and Tommy James' 'I Think We're Alone Now'.
If Black Vinyl can be considered an affable anomaly and Present Tense a professional throwback to "power-pop," then Shoes' new album is surely their vision completely realized. 'Burned Out Love', 'Found A Girl', 'Hopin' She's The One', 'She Satisfies', 'Only In My Sleep' – the simple titles themselves reveal the album's overriding romanticism, its preoccupation with the fantasies of youth.
Occasionally Shoes become mired in Barry Manilow's corny sentiments ('Karen') or Gary Sub-human's chemical synthetics ('The Things You Do'), but they always pull themselves out with pure lyricism and Smart tricks (one being their bow to Fleetwood Mac's Tusk on 'Your Imagination') A primary criticism could be the sameness of their songs, yet such uniformity can also be considered a reflection of their roots – the flat plains of the Midwest (Zion, Illinois, to be precise), the humdrum landscape that has given us Green Acres and Rick Johnson's prose. Technically proficient and spiritually clean, Shoes are the Cars and Boston with heart and soul still intact.
As for Tongue Twister, it is replete with broken promises, planned escapes, dreams pursued, and the shattered hopes of retrieving the lost pleasures of adolescence's naive virtues.