First Appeared in The Music Box, September 1998, Volume 5, #9
Written by John Metzger
Scarlet Theory's hard work over the past several years has begun to pay off. This San Francisco group won BAM Magazine's 1996 Best Unsigned Band contest and in return opened the 19th Annual Bay Area Music Awards show at the Warfield Theater. They've toured relentlessly along the West Coast, and last year released their first, full-length disc Circus-Sized Peanuts on Capsize Records, their own self-financed label.
Scarlet Theory is musically all over the map, incorporating the sounds of the '70s, '80s, and '90s into their songs. In fact, they are so adventurous in their desire to cover a lot of ground that this 60-minute disc is not very easy to get your arms around. A song that starts in one place rapidly shifts to another location with very little warning. However, the time invested in repeated listenings is bound to pay off as the cohesiveness of the disc becomes clear.
Circus-Sized Peanuts kicks off with the infectious, tongue-in-cheek Pop Song and doesn't ever really let up. (I've No Use for) Jennifer just may be the pop song the band is looking for as they turn a simple Byrdsian guitar riff into a majestic anthem. The same can be said for I Can't Read Your Mind.
Looking for a different sound? Just wait a track or two. Arms of Venus is the band's foray into grunge, and Sad to Lose a Friend falls somewhere between The Jayhawks and Dada. The sweet guitar jam Intro to Millageville flows into the Led Zeppelin-inspired Aubergine. Streudel mutates the introductory riff from R.E.M.'s Seven Chinese Brothers and in doing so sheds a bit of light onto this disc. Early R.E.M. is clearly a huge influence on the band, and many of Scarlet Theory's songs reflect the same anger, passion, and influences of R.E.M.'s first few albums.
Scarlet Theory certainly won't get bored with their material. They just don't stay in one place for too long. This is creates both the greatest fault and the greatest advantage for this disc. By jumping from style to style so effortlessly, Scarlet Theory really challenges their audience to stay with them. The beauty of the disc is that by the time you get your arms around the whole thing, the songs and melodies are well-ingrained in your head. Circus-Sized Peanuts not only requires, but deserves repeated listenings. ½
1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 1998 The Music Box