When children of movers and shakers in the music industry form a band, there’s always that nagging sense of doubt in the back of the listener’s mind: Did they really make it on their own or did they get on the inside album industry fast-track? The Like’s lead singer Elizabeth “Z” Berg is the daughter of music producer Tony Berg, and drummer Tennessee Thomas’s father Pete Thomas drummed for Elvis Costello. But despite the parental star power, the strength of The Like’s Release Me should put all thoughts of nepotism to rest.
The Like’s second album opens with its best offering. Wishing He Was Dead starts out with a groove that sounds like it was pulled from a Guy Ritchie movie – a swaggering rock beat, a hip bassline, fuzzy guitar plucks, and organ stabs. After Berg offers a short vocal introduction, the song launches into an exquisite chorus with a beautiful melody and lushly layered background vocals. The message is clear – “When I am through with him, he will be wishing he was dead” – and the juxtaposition is pitch-perfect: the groovy music mashes up against the beautiful vocals and forceful threats. Berg delivers the vocals with an intensity, to be sure, but she doesn’t get too forceful, which compliments the music very nicely – if she’d screamed it would have really ruined the balance.
This balance between coolness and aggression is a key element to most of the songs on Release Me. Sweet voices go up against terribly fuzzy guitars on He’s Not A Boy; melodic organs fight a breakbeat on Fair Game. It’s a sort of sweet-versus-sundry tightrope walk, with Berg lamenting love games and promising to fight back against all the jerks out there.
Stylistically, Release Me would fit into the broadest imaginable definition of the “retro” label, but The Like use older styles as more of a reference point for their message than as a gimmick for their record sales. The title song, for example, incorporates melodies straight out of ’60s pop, but uses an introduction with strange syncopation to set up a creative song that passes through equal parts pop and ska, complete with offbeat guitars and handclaps. Garage rock, surf rock, pop, ska, and even classic Motown (check the bassline on In The End) come through in unexpected bursts across the full playing time of the album, providing a nice sort of survey of the history of pop music.
The Like take hooks to the next level by repeating choruses as many times as possible, but the sections are so catchy it’s very difficult to get annoyed by the repetitions. The album plays through quite easily, with only minor exceptions in the form of the slower Narcissus In A Red Dress and parts of the closer Don’t Make A Sound / Why Love Is Gone. In fast riffs, The Like are in their element. And as historian-practitioners of popular music, they can be fully trusted.