Hey man. Hey. I just want everyone to be OK. I’m not here to make enemies or burn bridges. If I don’t make it clear now, I never will: Digital Get Down is all about love. Love for all. Let’s hug, friends.
What I mean here is, I have no intention of using Digital Get Down as a tool for pop shaming. I am not going to post a review of a teen pop record I think is bad solely to make fun of its badness, to revel in it and derive joy from it, to turn the living breathing human beings behind those microphones into a laughy joke act for mocky mock chuckles. It’s mean? And kind of pointless? And I don’t feel good doing it.
So here is my message to teen pop acts of the world: if you record a record I think is bad, then gosh-darnit, I am sad and I want you to get better. I don’t want you to keep making bad music! For the love of God! Bad music is bad and things would be better if it wasn’t around. No, I want you to turn that bad music into good music. To play for the winning team. To work for a better tomorrow. To contribute your soul to humankind. And the kicker is – I know you can do it.
That’s right, Nameless Mediocre Teen Pop Act. I mean you. Even if you’ve recorded 16 records of uninspired, pandering, dog-cocked shitmeal, I still believe that you can knock me out and make something great out of nowhere. In fact, I’m waiting for you to. I, Sean Rose, see your true beauty and I don’t know why you can’t see it too.
Hey. Hey guys. Fun thought. What if every band you hated became a band you loved. Eh? Think of how wonderful that would be! Seriously – think of the one band you hate most in the world. Maybe it’s Good Charlotte or Color Me Badd or Styx (or Nickelback if we’re shooting fish in a barrel). Imagine if, all of the sudden, that one band you hate most started making music you loved! You know that would make you so happy, wouldn’t it? Yes it would, unless you’re a grumpy grinch loser. Unless you’re a jerk. A toad. Get over it, you scummy guy! Be more like me! Like Sean Rose, the Best Dude with the Biggest Ever Heart.
Thesis statement: I am great, and everyone else is bad. Here is a pic of me:
So uh, ok. Where am I going with this. LFO?
Yes, right. OK. LFO.
I pity the poor LFO. A group that hit the heights of pop stardom for a brief, fleeting moment on the strength of a novelty single notable only for its cavalier namedropping of a prominent clothing manufacturer. A group with serious hip-hop aspirations they lacked the credibility and drive to achieve, shoved into a late-90s “boy band” mold they lacked the talent to escape. A group that wanted to be your funny, wise-cracking kid brother and instead ended up your skeevy, douche-tattooed older cousin. A group that could only plausibly exist for a couple of months in the summer of 1999 before becoming immediately silly and dated, one that could never hope to withstand the Great Boy Band Purge of 2002.
There was just no hope for these dudes. None. From the very beginning. Sure, you could argue the same for most late 90s boy bands, but LFO were a special brand of irrelevant. Let me put it this way: “I Want It That Way” didn’t become a hit solely based on instantly mockable references to Larry Bird, Michael J. Fox and “Billy Shakespeare.”
But let’s look at this from Rich Cronin’s point of view for a second. Imagine that you are Rich Cronin circa 1999 (like I do, every night, deep in sweet dreams). “Summer Girls,” a hokey silly song you wrote as an in-joke between friends, just hit #3 on the Billboard Hot 100 out of nowhere. “Girl On TV,” another song you mostly wrote, follows up at #10 on the charts. Sheez, what is going through your mind right now? Are you thinking, “welp, better enjoy this fleeting flash-in-the-pan success while I still can”? Are you thinking, “I should be embarrassed that my stupid dumb Abercrombie & Fitch song has spread to every radio station in the country like a virus, and I am the scourge of pop music”? Are you thinking, “the only reason this thing is a hit is ’cause Trans Continental and Lou Pearlman are genius soul-sucking music industry moguls”?
Nope. You’re thinking this: “It’s all paid off. After years of honing my craft, I’ve written a huge hit single that everyone loves and everyone will remember. I’m a successful songwriter now. Finally.”
There is no doubt in my mind that this is exactly how Rich – and the rest of LFO, for that matter – felt about their success. In every interview I’ve seen and read with them, they come across as doggedly serious and committed to their music. “Summer Girls” was not a joke or a trifle for them – it was The Song that made them Who They Are, even if “Who They Are” was a silly low-rent summertime boy band destined for the bargain bin.
LFO viewed themselves as outsiders in the teen pop world, and in a limited way, they were. Sure, their first record was full of formulaic boy band pap with occasional embarrassing Rich raps tacked on, so it’s a hard point to argue. But I don’t think LFO attributed their polished pop sound or their well-groomed hunky looks for their success – “Summer Girls” was their biggest hit, after all, and no matter what anybody felt about it, it was definitely not a standard boy-band single. It was a song anchored on Cronin’s affably dumb-brained personality, and that must have meant something to him. That must have spurred him on.
So LFO always resented being called a “boy band.” Here, I think, was Rich’s dream of LFO: to be a snarky, funny, hip-hop influenced pop group that would come to embody the sweetest grooves of the summertime. A group that could credibly break out of the teen-pop mold and become a sustainable and popular pop group that released a radio-friendly record every couple summers or so. America’s Favorite Summerboys.
It was a lofty goal, and one a group like LFO could never hope to achieve. But man, they did try. They did. If LFO was a record content to wallow in every flaccid boy band stereotype in the book, their 2001 follow-up Life Is Good is a genuine attempt to buck the “boy band” label and turn LFO into a band with actual shelf life.
Did it work? A good question. Let us turn to Chapter 2 of LFO: The Boys America Won, Lost, And Lost Again for an answer.
A SECOND LFO RECORD!?
So here’s what I want to do. I only want to talk about Life Is Good‘s positive attributes. Sure, we could talk about the obnoxious “Alayna” here, or Rich Cronin’s never-will-it-not-be-awkward rapping, or their occasional similarities to CrazyTown. But I’d prefer not to. These guys deserve a break, don’t they?
And besides, Life Is Good doesn’t deserve that kind of treatment. It doesn’t! There is plenty of good to talk about here, believe it or not! So let’s ditch the garbage and talk about some tracks I like.
“EVERY OTHER TIME”
Yes, OK. “Every Other Time” is easily LFO’s best single, and the last real radio hit they would have, hitting #44 on the Billboard Hot 100. Ditching the casual stupidity of “Summer Girls” and the boy band balladry of “Girl On TV,” it’s more of an attempt at genuine summery bubblegum pop, with its “NA NA NA NA NA” chorus and Hanson-esque record scratches. It even features Rich actually singing instead of speak-singing or rapping or grunting “UH UH UH” over a lite-pop backing track. Solid, well-produced pop music.
And it’s kind of funny, too! It is! The only set of LFO lyrics I can think of that make me giggle in a non-derisive way. Best line has to be Rich’s reaction to his post-breakup ladyfriend telling all of his friends that he’s gay: a pause, and then a baffled “Okay?” Not an angry “okay,” or even an upset “okay” – just a confused, almost concerned-for-your-well-being “okay.” An honest and funny moment in an LFO single! Who knew!
But y’know, even if “Every Other Time” was the perfect crystallization of LFO’s summertime pop buzz, it wasn’t huge. “Summer Girls” had that novelty appeal, after all. “Every Other Time” was a fun groover, but not much else in the eyes of mainstream listeners.
Notable: the song’s music video is intended to be a parody of MTV’s Cribs, and while it’s reasonably entertaining and cute, it’s a little too faithful and reverent of its source material to qualify as a decent spoof. I think it’s supposed to be funny because we’re supposed to view the LFO guys as a bunch of normal dudes, and hey, isn’t it funny and weird that they have all this rich celeb stuff?? Because that is so not becoming of them.
Old-school hip-hop beats, harmonicas, “ANDTHEWHEELSONTHEBUSGOROUND” in a goofy low voice. The New Edition namedrop in “Summer Girls” come to life. The bubblegum continues.
“28 Days” reveals one important detail about Life Is Good: the severe lack of vocals from LFO’s resident smooth-voiced hunk Devin Lima, whose presence on the last record was so prevalent that he could easily be mistaken for LFO’s actual lead singer. No so here – with the exception of his lead vocal on “If I Had A Dollar,” finding Lima’s vocals on Life Is Good is akin to playing a cheap dollar store Where’s Waldo? knockoff. On “28 Days,” you’ll hear him sing the word “SORRAY!” behind Rich right before the chorus and that is about it.
Why no Devin? I can only assume that the group felt his buttery-smooth vocals were part of what pegged them as a boy band in the first place and wanted to move as far away from that as possible. His voice fit on LFO, which was full of baby-makin’ bed ballads like “I Will Show You Mine” that sounded like they were written by a third-grader. Life Is Good has none of these. So no Devin.
Power… pop? LFO goes power pop?? Stop the presses!!
Nah, well, not quite. “6 Minutes” has what could be called “butt-ugly” verses, but a fizzy quick catchy chorus so addictive even the Jonas Brothers just had to cover it (scrubbing away the obvious sexual undertones into something more high-school-kid friendly). It’s also another charming example of Rich trying to play the downtrodden loser, with lines like “sometimes I wish that I was someone like Brad Pitt.”
Don’t worry, Rich. That’ll be you someday.
Eh-ha, what? Gosh, you guys. It’s LFO doing moody Depeche Mode pop. Rich Cronin singing in a goth-styled low croon. Electronic beats. Sweeping guitar. This is the real deal, folks. We’ve hit the jackpot.
I’m only half-kidding. “Erase Her” is a shockingly admirable attempt at 80s mood-pop for the group that just gave us “Cross My Heart” and “I Don’t Wanna Kiss You Goodnight” a mere two years before. It’s not a great song, but it’s Life Is Good‘s one clue as to the kind of band LFO could have been had they chosen a different route. There was some real talent lurking somewhere in this band that would never be fully realized. Ever.
Acoustic guitar. Deep emotions. Rich Cronin singing with romantic unease. The Lyte Funky Ones?
Even if Rich’s vocals give off a creepy CrazyTown vibe (I’m sorry, the comparison is just too easy) “Dandelion” is another weird left-turn for LFO, and a surprisingly accomplished one to boot. For whatever reason, a version of the track was recorded as a duet with a pre-“Milkshake” Kelis but was tacked on as a bonus track only, with the standard album version featuring Rich solo. I have no idea why this was done and who thought this was a good idea, because Kelis’s presence elevates the track significantly; the Rich-only version is a bit dull by comparison.
Who in 1999 thought that an LFO/Kelis collaboration was viable? Or the LFO/De La Soul collaboration we get with “Alayna”? Life Is Good reveals a group that might have had pretty solid taste, but struggled to create music nearly as good as the music they loved. Pity.
(Also worth noting: both “Erase Her” and “Dandelion” feature songwriting co-credits from Rick Nowels, who I know mostly from his work with Gregg Alexander and the New Radicals. So I guess the solid pop professionalism of both tracks is no fluke.)
“If I were a super hero / a Goodfella like Deniro / if I could face all my fears / and dated girls like Britney Spears…”
I am having trouble buying Rich’s wannabe-loser outlook here. This is coming from a guy that dated Jennifer Love Hewitt. He was a legitimate pop star celebrity when he wrote this song. I don’t know, Rich. I don’t know.
“…wore black leather on a Harley / in Jamaica like Bob Marley…”
Rich you can’t just say names of people. You need some kind of context here, buddy. I’m- come on, man.
It’s a nice song.
“WHERE YOU ARE”
It’s summertime! Another “NA NA NA” chorus! Another harmonica riff! Lifting fun pop melodies! The Lyte Funky Ones strike again!!
If LFO notched one real triumph on Life Is Good, it would be their all-out embrace of bubblegum pop and catchy melodies. While “Where You Are” doesn’t have the charm of “Every Other Time,” I think it’s got a catchier and sillier chorus, and might be the most enjoyable track on the record. The sweet frivolity of summertime bursting to life.
…and immediately falling apart.
Pffuck. What do you want me to do, spit out pithy comments about every single track on Life Is Good?? I’m not your maid. I’m not your friend. Go home.
This was a worthless review and I’m a worthless guy for writing it. There are only two things you really need to know about Life Is Good, two things you need to consider when talking about LFO’s career:
1) It is head-and-shoulders better than their self-titled debut. A serious, serious improvement. Their first record was full of meandering frilly boy band R&B-lite. Life Is Good is a well-produced pop-rock record with a few good good songs. A genuinely solid piece of summertime. They worked hard to get better during their two years of success, and they actually did it!
2) It is, I have no doubt, the best possible record the three members of the Lyte Funky Ones could make together. They did everything they could to make this record great. It isn’t, but gosh, isn’t it nice that they tried?
But sadly, their best efforts would not be enough for the Boys of Summer. Their fates were sealed. Despite being a perfect summer record for 2001 (and so so much better than their first record), Life Is Good barely charted on the Hot 100 and dropped off soon afterwards. “Every Other Time”‘s airplay dwindled, and that was it.
The trio went on “hiatus” in 2003 and never recorded another album, so if we’re working off of albums here then Life Is Good would technically mark the end of the LFO story. But I assure you, readers, Digital Get Down is not finished with LFO just yet. We’ve got one more chapter left in LFO: The Boys America Won, Lost, And Lost Again, and gosh. It’s… a rough one.
Man, it’s sad. Man. It’s going to be a hard review to write. I’m not kidding. Just- man.
But that’ll be next time! Next time.
Until then, I would like to leave you with LFO’s final single: the non-charting title track, “Life Is Good.” I wouldn’t be surprised if Mr. Cronin intended this to be a summation of his life philosophy, marrying downtrodden, cynical verse lyrics with the following chorus exaltation:
“Life is good / life is great / life is unbelievable / life is hard, life is cruel / life is so beautiful! / Ohh yeah, ohh yeah!!”
Well spoken, buddo.
Note: the above funny drawing of myself was contributed by beautiful soul KC Green, the legit funniest dude ever. Please read his wonderful comic Gunshow and maybe buy some of his goddamn books and shirts?? You will NOT REGRET IT