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music reviewmusic reviewmusic review  out of 4 Music Review: Shapeshifter

Artist: Marcy Playground
Genre: Rock/Pop
Release Date: November 1999

Review by LarryG
3 stars out of 4

John Wozniak, the singer/writer/producer/guitarist of Marcy Playground, projects a personality that can be simultaneously fascinating and infuriating. I found Wozniak's drugged out delivery on Sex and Candy annoying smarmy. The millions of listeners who made it a big hit obviously disagreed and I can't deny the song's slow, seductive charm. Wozniak isn't much of a singer. His vocals are often whiny but he has an undeniable presence. Wozniak's distinctive personality is back on the band's second CD, Shapeshifter, which is alternately appealing and annoying.

Wozniak can be a wry, subtle singer. Shapeshifter generally works best when he uses a light touch. Shapeshifter gets off to a great start with It's Saturday. With his yodeling and chunky power chords, Wozniak creates a great, exuberant mood for a fun song about a self pitying hypochondriac. Bye Bye, apparently about leaving Earth for a different universe, has an understated charm. Some of the best songs have an innocent child's perspective. Secret Squirrel, about a crime fighting rodent, has an undeniable loopy charm. A guest vocalist sings a verse as an evil archenemy. Dan Rieser's drums and Wozniak's psychedelic guitar keep the song moving. Wave Motion Gun is about a kid watching Star Blazers and imagining himself having the weapon of the title. The song has the same loose charm as Saint Joe On the School Bus from the band's last record. Wave Motion Gun has a nice contrast between cool, understated verses and choruses which build in excitement with giddy "woo woos" and increasing musical power from the band. Pigeon Farm is a slight tribute to an idyllic, probably fictitious place. Wozniak creates a good dynamic with jangly guitar on the verses and power chords on the chorus. A breezy trumpet solo adds to the pleasant mood.

Wozniak is clearly a bright guy but he can come across as pretentious and too smart for his own good. America has a nice theme of appreciating our country's many beautiful sights, but its music drags. All The Lights Went Out starts appealingly with Wozniak's acoustic guitar and a dreamy atmosphere accompanying his tale of love at first sight but it becomes annoying bombastic, stretching on with big showy guitars. Rebel Sodville, with its ostentatious power chords and Renaissance tale, has all the worst elements of 70's art rock. Never has the overly sweeping imagery and hyperseriousness of a bad song by Live. Love Bug should be silly and fun but its grandiose drums and slow, classic rock guitars are all wrong. The spacy Sunday Mail is a charmingly dopey song about waiting for mail but Wozniak's all over the place vocals can be trying. Our Generation starts with an interesting idea: exploring what happened to the idealism and optimism of the "Free To Be You and Me generation." However, the sprawling song doesn't really go anywhere.

There are enough irritants on Shapeshifter that it's hard to listen to straight through but there's enough good on Shapeshifter that it's worth buying the latest work from an interesting, inconsistent performer.



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