Jun 21, 2021
By Mark Moody
After a couple of punchy EP’s, the Mia Berrin-fronted quartet, Pom Pom Squad, deliver their debut LP with an unanticipated level of aplomb. With a stated affinity for Courtney Love, Berrin proves more nuanced and agile over the course of the album, which was co-produced by illuminati hotties leader, Sarah Tudzin. The mix of buzzy punk attitude blends in high school sock hop riffs from the 1940s and ’50s, while also working in a fairly straight cover of Tommy James and the Shondells’ 1968 hit “Crimson + Clover.” Berrin’s ability to trade blistering kiss-offs with lip-quivering sentimental ballads is more reminiscent of Chrissie Hynde and the early Pretenders albums than anything else.
If starting the album with the melody of The Chordette’s “Mr. Sandman,” along with a later homage to Doris Day’s “Again” (here re-worked as “This Couldn’t Happen”), is intended to be campy, Berrin has too much talent to make it sound anything other than heartfelt. This is cemented fully in the string-laden showstopper, “Forever.” The tale of desperate longing builds to a glorious minute-long outro where Berrin states her pledge repeatedly. The percolating chimes of “Mr. Sandman” reappear on the later appeal for patience of “Be Good.”
But at the risk of dwelling on Berrin’s softer, forward-looking side, the album has plenty of punk fueled fiery blasts over its course as well. Thematically, those songs look backwards to awkward early relationships, which were characterized by her objectification. “Lux” runs a brisk course, but packs in plenty of missives, like “I knew my body was not my own.” The similarly paced “Cake” is under-laid with a squall of guitars and a dawning realization: “I wasn’t worth your time.” While the album’s counterbalance to “Forever” appears in “Head Cheerleader,” which shares the pop/punk smarts of the first Charly Bliss album and serves as the tipping point where Berrin declares her new found self-reliance.
As with the album’s mix of sour and sweet, the title Death of a Cheerleader holds a myriad of meanings. Most literally taken, the album closes the chapter on Berrin’s teenage self. But more importantly, she lays a torch to prior relationships built on nothing but appearance in favor of more emotional depth and a greater understanding of her self. Whether the Pom Pom Squad motif survives beyond this album or not, one thing we have not come here to bury is Berrin’s ability to uncover a hook or reveal a truth. And if she wears her heart and her influences on 3/4 length sleeves, her ability to contend with all of that and come out on top makes Death of a Cheerleader a clear winner. (www.pompomsquad.com)
Author rating: 7.5/10
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