Are you sitting at home watching your DVDs of Star Trek: The Next Generation, playing Super Nintendo and alternately reading old copies of Spy Magazine and Timothy Zahn’s first Star Wars trilogy? Well, chances are you’ve never progressed out of 1994, and now there’s a band that will be there to keep you company. Beati Paoli (pronounced bee-AH-ti POW-lee) is an Iowa band that keeps the early ’90s fires burning, and sometimes in these days of Bush, Jr., I wish I could go back to those heady Clinton days of yore as well.
The boys of Beati Paoli were smart in their choice of band name, and a lot of other things I’m finding out about the band leads me to believe that it’s not the only thing proving their intelligence. Beati Paoli is the name of an Italian secret society that traveled in the catacombs, dedicated to saving the Italian people from both the church and the state. While the band doesn’t have goals as subversive as that, it can be said that they are living in the past’s underground. One gets the distinct feeling that a glance at these guys’ CD collections will reveal Weezer’s blue album, Green Day’s Dookie, early Violent Femmes work, and maybe even the Sugarplastic.
The debut EP from the band, called Penny Dreadful, features gorgeous cover artwork cribbed from Winsor McCay’s Little Nemo comics, another display of the group’s collective taste and smarts. So, the stage is essentially set for disappointment. It’s not that the music of Beati Paoli is bad. If you like the abovementioned albums, or anything that is relatively `smart ass,’ (read: Ween, Placebo, They Might Be Giants, etc.) then you’ll definitely dig Beati Paoli. But almost everything about this Iowa band smacks of being too clever for their own good. Take the second track, “E as in X-Ray.” First, there’s the obvious cheekiness of the title, then, there’s the fact that the first line is “Sic Transit Gloria,” a repeated Latin phrase from the film, Rushmore. They also either had the audacity, or the complete obliviousness, to name a song “Life During Wartime.” Did they not remember that one of the Talking Heads’ most famous songs shares that same title? Or was that the point?
There are some shining moments on Penny Dreadful. “Ouroboros” is a well written and played track that seems to transcend the dated quality of the rest of the EP. And here’s another smart-guy reference as well. An ouroboros is a snake, serpent or dragon that is depicted in a circle, eating its own tail. The song, in which the narrator finds himself annoyed at the vicious circle of a friend’s conversation, even mentions the snake as a comparison.
Listening to Beati Paoli’s debut reminded me of college, and not in a necessarily good way. I graduated in 1994, the year in which this band seems forever trapped in time, and I don’t really miss it much at all. One look at the band’s MySpace page also sent me, Christopher Reeve-Somewhere in Time-style, back to that particular time, as a friend posted an invite to play Risk or Axis & Allies. All that was missing was the smell of Ramen, the taste of Meister Brau and a discussion about saving up money for the Star Wars laserdisc box set. And if Beati Paoli ends up writing songs about any of these things, I swear by all that is holy, I will don a black cloak like the secretive men of their namesake, and in the dark of the Iowa night, I will put an end to it.
Weezer- Weezer (blue)
The Sugarplastic- Bang! The Earth is Round
They Might Be Giants- Apollo 18