The Strokes have been known to say that before they found fame and acclaim, their primary aspiration was to be as popular as the Mooney Suzuki. They soon lapped their heroes many times over, but the jury is still out on whether the better band grabbed that brass ring. Where the Strokes deal in artier guitar interplay and obscure wannabe poetry, the Mooney Suzuki opt for pure wildness and raunch. They take the garage-rock formula and pile on an extra ton of sleazy aggression and sneering innuendo, shoving up against the edges of the genre until they break through to somewhere far more interesting.
They'd understand such quantitative-into-qualitative transformations, too. Squint hard at their scumbag pose and you'll see some intellectual inclinations; for some reason, the group's name is derived from Malcolm Mooney and Damo Suzuki, singers from '60s avant-rock legends Can. More than one acolyte of the international Can cult has been confused and disappointed by the Mooney Suzuki's un-Canlike rock & roll, but the bands do share a certain cerebral, self-conscious approach to their very different music. The original garage-rock sound may have been a fantastic accident, created by amateur bands who were trying to sound like their chart favorites, but the Mooney Suzuki's take on the music is historically aware and letter-perfect. Witness "In a Young Man's Mind," the latest single from their second LP, Electric Sweat. It's all there in excess: the chunky blues chords, the primitive pummeling of the drums, the vocalist's snide yowl, the general commitment to all things grimy and sweaty. It's not just garage rock, it's concentrated garage-rock essence, a hard little nugget of adrenaline, pure crack for rock people.
Less attractive is the naked careerism on display in recent interviews, wherein the band members make no bones about their desire for piles of cash, their name in lights, the whole stardom trip. But if they can get there without turning into Creed, good on them. Let 'em pose on Letterman and shmooze with Drew Barrymore if it means they'll keep providing us rubes with that rock & roll rush.