Imagine Coldplay's "Clocks." Now imagine it with ukuleles instead of pianos. Not even close, is it? For reasons that a professional musicologist could explain only after years of experiments, pianos make everything sound better. They make sad songs bigger and happy ones bouncier, and this strange property of keyboards does wonders for Something Corporate
. An Orange County quintet signed to Drive-Thru Records just out of high school, Something Corporate is led by pianist Andrew McMahon, who adds fluttering, hesitant melodies to the band's pop songs. Unlike their mostly reprehensible pop-punk labelmates (who are to punk what Hanna-Barbera was to animation), the boys' songs sound worthy of the emotional melodrama in their lyrics, not least because of the weight that McMahon's piano gives them.
This might suggest that Something Corporate falls under that broad category of middle-class punk called "emo." Fair enough, but the songs on the band's latest album, North, have more to do with the Ben Folds Five circa "Brick" than with Jimmy Eat World. They've aged out of poppier songs like "Punk Princess" and settled into prom ballads that suggest the dark lushness of the early '80s New Romantics. "The Runaway" even cribs its melody from the Thompson Twins' "Hold Me Now." A melody that, it should be noted, sounds even better with piano.