Chapel Hill's Transportation is refreshingly unfashionable. While some might disagree with the band's press materials that this is "an age where genres ape and re-ape themselves in a seemingly endless stream of banal quasi garage rock and No-wave retreads," there's no mistaking that Transportation's "beacon of hope for the true spirit of rock and roll" is decidedly out of step with most flavors of today's popular music. On the group's newest album, Amusement Park, these veterans offer a take on '80s FM radio rock 'n' roll that's more roll than rock, with a polite R&B chaser added to the mix. If the notion of a more rugged Maroon 5 makes you roll your eyes, then stop reading. If the thought intrigues you, thank longtime Triangle producer Jerry Kee for adding some much-needed grit to Transportation's mix.
While bassist Robbie Scruggs might not be called on to sing any hip-hop hooks any time soon (à la Maroon 5's Adam Levine), his voice is pleasantly reminiscent of the more famous half of Hall & Oates. Scruggs' vocals make the group's attempts to kick out the jams easier on the ears when Transportation takes a turn for the raucous on Amusement Park. Still, these aren't the band's strength. Rather, when Transportation decides to slow things down, Amusement Park becomes an enjoyable ride. On ballads like "Pool Parties" and "Stars in the Sky," the nostalgia inherent in the group's music dovetails nicely with Scruggs' lyrics and his soulful yearning. On the album's best track, "I Will Be What I Was," a harmonica outro that could very well be a note-for-note homage to Stevie Wonder's "Isn't She Lovely?" ratchets this formula higher and higher. It is, indeed, lovely and charming.
Amusement Park won't find itself setting any trends any time soon, but as the album often proves, there's nothing wrong with being out of step with the masses when you're dancing this well to your own beat.