Marcy Playground - Leaving Wonderland in a Fit of Rage
Record Label: Woz Records
Release Date: July 7, 2009
How exactly the 1997 single "Sex and Candy," ever became such an ubiquitous hit is still quite puzzling. The verses were droning, the chorus was mid-tempo and most of the song was lazy and uninspired. And yet somehow, that penultimate verse, "Mama, this surely is a dream," found its way inside the recesses of the brain and stayed there for days.
Much like Michigan's The Verve Pipe, who landed a big hit with the chilly single "The Freshmen," the rest of the Marcy Playground repertoire was vastly different from their lyrically awkward single. The New York-based quartet, founded by vocalist/lyricist John Wozniak, threw together an urgent and yearning blend of post-grunge, inspired by the likes of Nirvana and The Replacements. After the success of "Sex and Candy," the band released two more albums, 1999's Shapeshifter and 2004's MP3, the latter coming out after the band had been dropped by Capitol. But having taken so long in between releases, Marcy Playground for all intents and purposes was left for dead. That is until now.
Earlier this month, the band dropped their fourth album Leaving Wonderland in a Fit of Rage, an appropriately titled comeback album that's one of the year's most pleasant surprises. Beginning with the fiery opener, "Blackbird," Wonderland pulls no punches and begins with a bang. The lead single "Star Baby," kicks off like a rocket and shows that the band still has a pristine knack for upping the sonic ante. Far more polished than the off-putting MP3, Wonderland shines bright far more than it disappoints. At the heart, the album is more or less a Wozniak solo album as acoustic guitar flourishes throughout. There's a Lennon-like playfulness in the finger-picked "Memphis" and the hallucinatory "I Must Have Been Dreaming," that shows even 12 years removed from their grunge-era hit, they've still got something to prove. When the band does kick it up a notch, as on the radio-ready "Good Times," and the punchy "Devil Woman," its a treat to listen to. Equal parts fractured, sardonic, and cerebral, Wonderland is a return to form.
The band's press kit indicates the album was slated to be the follow-up to the self-titled smash hit and its a downright shame that this never saw the light of day back then. Whether it was Capitol or Wozniak that balked at the idea, either party is probably shaking their head nowadays. Not one for hyperbole, Wozniak has admitted that the album is ''by far the best thing I've ever done. Easily the most personal record I've ever made, and I think it's the thing that will connect most with other people.'" No, Wonderland isn't an album of the year candidate or an absolute must-listen, but of the 12 songs on the disc, at least eight are compelling, creative listens, and for a band most people left for dead, that's saying something. Just ask Vertical Horizon.