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TÊTES NOIRES (Buy CDs by this artist)
Têtes Noires (Rapunzel) 1983
American Dream (Rapunzel) 1984
Clay Foot Gods (Rounder) 1987

This Minneapolis sextet shows what can happen when a demented Girl Scout singalong turns into a pop band. Their musical assets are formidable, with three lead singers — ranging from credible to incredible — and a songwriting collective that easily harnesses its riot of pop influences to produce work that demands serious consideration.

Which is not to say that all this coalesced into perfection on Têtes Noires. But any record that introduces a band with such spunk (and a drum machine named Barbie) can't be too bad. American Dream shows what the Têtes can do as songwriters. Not every line flows — a few are rhythmically jarring (a surprising weakness for a singer-dominated group) — but they've got plenty to say on subjects ranging from world peace to Moonies to gay murder to that ultimate horror, the American family. Anchored by strong bass, the odd instrumental mix begins to hit more often than it misses. And those meshing voices — unified, unique, powerful — could blow the Bangles off the map.

Increasing their instrumental independence by fitting a drummer into the lineup, the talented Têtes recorded Clay Foot Gods, a dud produced by two of the Violent Femmes. An insincere air of commercial slickness turns the songs toward unnatural danceability without any corresponding increase in their musical merit. The Têtes have come a long way since the first record's unfettered joy, but now seem to be lost.

[Mark Fleischmann/Ira Robbins]