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Special Kiss

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Album Review

Having collaborated on projects like B.A.L.L. and Velvet Monkeys, Don Fleming and Jay Spiegel recruited bass player Eric Vermillion and set about recording under the Gumball moniker. With the onus still very much on charging rhythms and searing guitars, the trio's 1991 debut album displayed a certain amount of continuity with Fleming and Spiegel's work on the final B.A.L.L. release, Four (Hardball). Tracks like "Summer Days" and "High or Low" sound as if, in another life, they might have been melodic bubblegum pop/rock, only to be reincarnated here as distorted and scuffed-up, beat-driven guitar fests. But although Special Kiss is, for the most part, the sound of the pop song ripped up, stamped on, and fed through a grungey wringer, there are some variations on the theme of guitar noise in Gumball's repertoire. With its shouty vocals and one-two staccato beat, "Alternate Feed" has an almost vintage hardcore sound for its short and not-so-sweet 55 seconds, whereas "You Know" — co-written and performed with Glasgow's Teenage Fanclub — has an anthemic, singalong feel that's somewhere between glam and punk, in a Damned sort of way. The ghost of Sonic Youth can be heard lurking throughout Special Kiss, especially on "Yellow Pants" and on the eerie, droning "Restless." That specter makes its presence felt more directly amid the sludgey, dense textures of the jam-like "Gettysburg" as Thurston Moore contributes keyboards and brings another layer of disorder to the album. Even more shambolic is the almost free-form avant-garde cacophony of "Pre," an instrumental number largely comprising bursts of machine-gun drumming and spiraling guitar noise that give the proceedings the feel of an every-man-for-himself outro to a live song. The trio would reconvene with Dinosaur Jr.'s J Mascis and producer Butch Vig for 1993's Super Tasty.


Formed: 1990 in New York, NY

Genre: Rock

Years Active: '90s

Gumball were the highest-profile occupation of indie gadabout Don Fleming, already a veteran of several bands, a guest collaborator for many more, and a significant producer who -- ironically -- helped shepherd alternative rock into its major-label boom years. As Gumball's singer, guitarist, and primary songwriter, Fleming's record-collector obsession with pop culture and pop music, from the Monkees to the Damned to Sonic Youth, reached full fruition. Snatches of '60s guitar riffs sat next to '80s...
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Special Kiss, Gumball
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