The Reigning Sound: Time Bomb High School

The Reigning Sound: Time Bomb High School

The name is no good, first off. "The Reigning Sound" sounds like it should be plastered onto the bass drum of a plodding modern-rock outfit, or one of those party-ska-lounge acts that were all the rage a few years back. The Reigning Sound doesn't do itself any favors by opening its second album, Time Bomb High School, with a cover of "Stormy Weather." The Memphis band rips out a smoking rendition of the old standard, but it's a minor-league play, not indicative of a record worth celebrating from start to finish. Time Bomb really starts with its second track, "Straight Shooter," which sounds like an Exile On Main Street outtake played with the clarity of London Calling-era Clash. From that moment on, Time Bomb is nothing short of a revelation, jumping miles ahead of the group's tepid 2001 roots-rock debut Break Up... Break Down, and fulfilling the promise of bandleader Greg Cartwright's prior band, Oblivians. Not that The Reigning Sound specializes in Oblivians' scuzzy, shattered garage-punk; Cartwright's latest obsessions rest in the rocked-up R&B legacy of his hometown. The disc makes room for the all-shook-up garage of "Brown Paper Sack," the Phil Spector dramatics of "I'd Much Rather Be With The Boys," and the pogo-friendly punk self-definition of the title track. Amid all the historical rock signifiers, Cartwright's stinging country-soul ballads—"You're Not As Pretty," "I Walk By Your House," "Dressy"—gain authority beyond their Westerbergian sense of sorrow and pithiness. They demonstrate the command of an artist who knows exactly what he's doing, who can sing "You're the thing that's caught my eye" with the specific proportion of sincerity and sleaze, and who can apply rippling piano, quavering organ, and cooing background vocals without the least bit of irony or rip-off. The Reigning Sound is so terrific that it may even survive its lousy first impression.

More Music Review