With the best name in indie rock and a style that can best be described as Ariel Pink co-hosting an episode of Sesame Street with Elmo, Have You Ever Seen The Jane Fonda Aerobic VHS‘ sophomore album, ‘Jazzbelle 1984 / 1988’, is a riot. Its eleven songs are more fun than singing the “Pinball Number Count” or “C Is for Cookie”. But in a similar vein as the celebrated children’s show, Jane Fonda VHS bring the fun and the fantasy to real life.
The record’s first three songs reveal the Finnish trio’s amusing creativity. Opener “Magic Swimming Pants” is one trippy fairy tale. Jack had a magic bean, but Jane Fonda VHS have swimming pants that allow them to “sleep with garden gnomes,” eventually get married, then overcome life on a mattress. The equally energetic “Eggs” isn’t quite a take on Dr. Seuss, but rather a more serious discussion about letting go and moving forward. The seamless infusion of jazz-infused horns into the band’s flowery garage-rock style gives the tune a very festive quality. With “The Heman Song”, Jane Fonda bring us back to our childhood with this raucous song that belongs on an episode of The Toys That Made Us or maybe even the forthcoming He-Man movie. The villain in this story, though, is grandma. Is this Masters of the Universe or an alter-dimension of Cinderella? Or is Skeletor really grandma?
“Corazone” is shout-out-loud exuberant. The track’s storyline is reminiscent of the ’90s movies and TV shows that focused on the lives of twentysomethings, specifically how one person waits longingly for the other to write. (It was the ’90s when people still wrote letters rather than emailing or texting.) Sure to bring a smile to everyone’s faces is “Sheep”. This seven-minute epic is really two different tracks merged into one. The first half is gyrating, bubblegum indie-pop in the mould of The Go! Team and The History of Apple Pie. Its sweet melodies and the sugary harmonies will have people swaying side-to-side and dancing around. The song turns into something unexpected – a pop choir. The final three minutes and forty-five seconds is quite subdued and mesmerizing. Whereas the first half was the celebration of life, the second half is the eulogy to our humanity.
Bavarian folk-pop-punk percolates through “Teeth”. You read that correctly, as the trio infuse accordion into this witty track that celebrates individuality. Speaking of which, the shimmering pop tune “Mareride” recalls the life of a drag queen, and the band exalts her inner and outer beauty. It’s a wonderful tune with a fabulous message for all of us to embrace. The album reaches a feverish pitch with “Hanky Panky”, which is a ’70s-inspired punk-pop tune made for house parties. The trio offer an amusing and serious observation about sex (and one person’s wish to become famous immediately) in the modern world:
“Do you really, really, really want to do the hanky panky?
Do you really, really, really want to see the dirty show?”
For all the wit, entertainment, and rambunctiousness, there is a great deal of intelligence in Jane Fonda VHS’ songs. On “Bambi Act”, for instance, the band tackle head on the misogyny in the world as well as issues about domestic violence and infidelity. The finale, “Period”, meanwhile, extends upon this theme, but in more serious tones than the fairy-tale nature of the former. But in their trademark fashion, the Finns deliver an upbeat and infectious tune filled with booming horns and a sugary melody that will have chests swelling. The very last notes are also quite fitting, as the horns finish off with a Rocky-esque uppercut. And like the acclaimed, fictional boxer, Have You Ever Seen The Jane Fonda Aerobic VHS deliver a fierce blow with this song and a knockout with Jazzbelle 1984/1988.
Have You Ever Seen The Jane Fonda Aerobic VHS are Susse Stemma-Sihvola (vocals/bass), Ekku Lintunen (vocals/guitar), and Janne-Petteri Pitkälä (drums).
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