Local Time

Jan 13, 1999 at 4:00 am
MARY NOT QUITE CONTRARY: Believe it or not, constructing your basic rock song and making it work is relatively difficult. It's not as tough as, say, rubbing your belly and patting your head simultaneously, but in these days of ready-made alt-rock and mix-and-match commercial stylings -- techno plus rock equals Chemical Brothers; ska plus punk equals the entirety of KPNT's playlist -- a good solid Rock Song with a couple of verses, a chorus, a hook and a grand- finale bang-up ending can work magic on unsuspecting ears.

Simple Mary's Diary is a St. Louis band that makes rock songs that'll stick in your head and withstand the weight of repeated listenings, even if these songs do remain defiantly within the realm of acceptable commercial radio fare, which is to say the band doesn't tread pathways that would land them too far outside mainstream rock music. But within those claustrophobic confines, the band thrives on banging out the rock.

The brainchild of one Josh Brett, who says he's used the name Simple Mary's Diary for the past few years but has had a steady, solidified lineup for only the last 10 months, the band's first full-length will be recorded in the coming year by John Curley, bassist for the Afghan Whigs, with whom SMD shares a strong sensibility. "Since we're all getting older," says Brett, "we're going for a more grown-up, elegant sound. For a while we were calling it 'cocktail rock,' or 'cocktail metal,' whatever." And yes, there is a certain elegance to the SMD sound: Brett prefers to croon where other rockers scream and roar, and he just as often opts for a cleaner guitar sound where ultramegadistortion has long ruled the day.

These rough impressions are based on the music that appears on their self-titled debut EP -- five songs with words in their titles like "magnetic," "tragic," "superstar" and "taste," buzzwords that may tell you as much about the music as I could. The band earns (or loses, depending on my mood) bonus points for co-opting an entire line from a Jeff Buckley song without attributing it ("Lover, you should have come over" is the linchpin of their "Mourning Tragic Love"). At least they've got the good taste to steal from Buckley rather than Matchbox 20.

Simple Mary's Diary will be headlining at Mississippi Nights on Friday, Jan. 15, with supporting acts Drew Johnson and the Earl Brothers. If you can't catch them on that night, they'll also be performing at the Side Door on Thursday, Jan. 28.

-- Randall Roberts