Music best described as novelty rock or even oddball pop has its patron saints, a few of the best being 10cc, Harry Nilsson, and Joe Walsh. It seems to be the genre of choice for Leaders in the Clubhouse, comprised of locals Charlie Recksieck and Spud Davenport; their debut CD is Won, a ten song exercise in quirkiness that shuns customary pop subject matter like romance and introspection in favor of songs about computer gizmos, trophies, and lawn chairs.
Both artists appear as lead vocalists, and Recksieck plays piano and bass, with Davenport on drums, kazoo, and theremin. Both play guitar and keyboards, and the disc adds studio help from horns and background singing, plus Andy Machin (co-producer with the Leaders) on guitars and bass. “She Gets Loud” takes a hard left down 10cc Avenue, but instead of being about that band’s tales of rubber bullets or hot minestrone, it’s a keyboard rocker about the girlfriend whose love making is “sexual napalm,” which wakes the neighbors. She gets loud and so does the instrumentation on this track and a few others, almost burying the singer on the choruses. Most listeners will identify with “These Goddamn Devices” about all of the frustration from the many various electronics making life more difficult rather than less so. Like “Loud,” the tune is mainly a framework to hang funny lyrics on — and smart instrumental bridges that include a theremin imitating out-of-sync machines.
“Law of the Jungle” has clever, cynical lyrics about sports teams, crowded cities, and modern society in general — about “thinning the herd” and “taking these suckers out” by going back to the survival of the strongest and fittest. The song seems to lack a clear focus, though, unless it is serious when it says “Oblivious and lazy, people with no skills/ Wonder if they’ll sob before they’re killed.” Despite horns and a nice guitar solo, this effort to channel Steely Dan’s often black humor falls way short. Our tendency to award mediocrity is checked off next, on “Trophy,” which lists the ways that kids are recognized with participation awards, making everyone heroes all the way through their college degrees. This tune is the catchiest on the disc, shifting in and out of time signatures, pounding home its hook with urgent keyboards and finishing with a strong guitar break.
“Awkward Town” scores points as both singers swap the lead vocal, and a crunching guitar riff makes this one a highlight. “Always invited but never the host… I’m the neighbor you never see,” it has a message and shows that the Leaders can get down and rock. After a cover of Nilsson’s “Old Forgotten Soldier,” with some old-timey ragtime feel, the disc wraps with “Lawnchairs.” Another throwback to Steely Dan tunes like “King of the World” and “The Last Mall,” this is a cheerful-sounding song about sitting watching the end of the world, delivered in an almost raucous jazzy anthem — with a horns and a groove that recall New Orleans.
Won is a debut that will earn plenty of attention for Leaders in the Clubhouse, for its offbeat songs and different pop approach.