Spymob - Sitting Around Keeping Score
By Dan Grote

Spymob - Sitting Around Keeping Score
Label: Ruthless Records

WANTED: Hip-hop producers forming side project seek backing band to help them rock. Must share love of Steely Dan, Ben Folds.

Two years ago, Spymob snuck in through the back door of the mainstream rock scene by playing backup on and touring behind N.E.R.D.'s "In Search Of…" Spymob used the opportunity to promote their own debut record, "Sitting Around Keeping Score," which could have created the proper amount of buzz, had a) the album come out on time, and b) N.E.R.D. kept them around for their second album.

Two years later, Spymob are left to fend for themselves, on a different record label no less, having been transferred from the Neptunes' Star Trak label to Sony's Ruthless. Ruthless, which sounds like a hip-hop imprint for starters, has a history of quietly releasing the singer-songwriter artists Sony doesn't know what to do with. Which is why you probably can't answer the question "Who is Ben Arnold?" unless you're from the Philadelphia area.

Anyway, the important question is, Does Spymob rock? Sure, I guess, in a Hall and Oates at Starbucks sort of way. The band's keyboard-driven pop is reminiscent of ‘70s blue-eyed soul, while the lyrics are so full of loveable loser quirk Rivers Cuomo would blush. It doesn't help that lead singer John Ostby sounds like Sting. Imagine the "Dune" star and master of tantric sex warbling songs like "I Still Live at Home" or "Thinking of Someone Else," on which Ostby, singing about being laid up with a broken toe, basically just wants his mommy.

For the most part, Ostby's biggest flaw is his obsession with "the little things in life": lawn bowling ("2040" – albeit on a virtual plane against couples from third world countries), the life of a dog ("It Gets Me Going"), light jacket weather ("On Pilot Mountain") and tracing the lines on a car seat ("German Test Drive," which disrespects drummer Eric Fawcett by using electronic loops).

In many instances, Ostby's words become cloying, the kind of thing only a 16-year-old honor student would think is witty. Take this sliver of chorus from "National Holidays," a song about child custody: "This month is highlighted yellow, with one box of blue." Right up there with "Your body is a wonderland."

VERDICT: Clever lyrics should be a means to an end, not the end in themselves. It's this kind of "kooky" singer-songwriterism that is Exhibit A as to why some people dislike John Mayer and Jason Mraz. Spymob are a little too quirky to be taken seriously, which is a shame, because I thought they were great when I saw them live, but lyrically, there's too much sweet and not nearly enough sour.

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