feb 9, 2001

the cd that wouldnt die
by Tim Grierson

At first listen, sure, they were poppy and catchy as hell and just more fun than anybody had any reason to expect. But by now, Tsar's slick, superficial songs should have worn thin, right? Months and months after the release of the band's self-titled debut, though, the fact is inescapable: The damn thing still rocks.

Tsar's 10 torpedoes retain the frenetic, jubilant urgency that first grabbed you by the throat last summer. Hell, even the ballads are more ecstatic than most band's rockers. Ably assisted by Green Day producer Rob Cavallo, Tsar have pulled off some kind of bizarre miracle. "Calling All Destroyers," "Silver Shifter," "The Girl Who Wouldn't Die"--once you've accepted their limitations, these songs thumb their noses at restraint and introspection without losing steam.

Exactly how did lead singer (and main writer) Jeff Whalen manage this? Well, after close listening, what's most apparent is the group's utter lack of self-consciousness about the glam rock/power pop traditions they're plowing through. Like a great comedian, Whalen knows it's more effective when you don't wink at the audience, when you play it straight and let the strength of the material speak for itself.

After once seeming overhyped, Tsar ended up underrated. How did that happen?