The Last Place
By Al Kaufman
For a band that doesn’t have a label, and has never had a pop single, Army Navy sure has a lot of friends in high places. Frontman Justin Kennedy was in a band with his high school buddy, Ben Gibbard, before Gibbard left to start Death Cab for Cutie. When Army Navy’s drummer left the band before the first album was recorded, Pete Thomas, one of Elvis Costello’s Attractions, picked up the beat for that record. Kennedy, who still holds a day job as a wardrobe stylist, has outfitted everyone from Elton John and Morrissey to Ted Danson and Tom Cruise. Through connections, the band has managed to get songs in movies such as Nick and Nora’s Ultimate Playlist and Shrek Forever After. The money attained from that has allowed them to put out this sophomore release.
Army Navy write the kind of power pop gems that garner them more critical raves than fans. It’s the kind of stuff of Crowded House or Teenage Fanclub, while their slower stuff (“Ex-Electric” and “Wonderland to Waterloo”) has a more ’70s, Big Star quality to it.
The album is about a six-month affair Kennedy had with a married Hollywood starlet. He begins by enjoying the illicit affair. “I don’t think I want to be saved/I’m much too good at being badly behaved,” he sings on “Last Legs.” But he soon comes to the realization that this is a relationship that can never last; and not just because she is already married. There’s a Pretty In Pink theme here, with role reversals. Poor boy gets the rich glamorous girl, but are their differences too vast? While poor Andie (Molly Ringwald) ends up with the rich Blane (Andrew McCarthy) in the John Hughes film, Kennedy is not so lucky. “Maybe it’s your celebrity that makes you want to slum it with me,” he opines over a spry melody on “Ode to Janice Melt” (in which they scored Jason Ritter for the hilarious video). In “A Circus” he sits and waits for her call while she glams it up with her famous friends. “When the bars close down tonight, and the drinks cloud up your mind, remember I’m here,” he reminds her, again over a pure power pop melody. Over the choppy guitars of “Feathers” he tells her, “Betcha gonna look so good when you’re walking away.” He finally gives in to the inevitable on the gorgeous closer, “Pastoral,” in which he bemoans “I guess it had to be this way.”
Yet the CD is not that blatant. Without the background story, one would be hard pressed to realize it is about an adulterous affair with a celebrity. The crisp, layered guitars and the harmony vocals make one not care of the subject matter at all. That’s just an extra bonus. It’s like eating candy for dinner and finding out it was actually good for you.