June 1999

Kory & the Fireflies - Radiate
Samson Music GC 0155
Released: 1999

by Steven P. Ragland

Musical Performance **
Recording Quality ***
Overall Enjoyment **

[Reviewed on CD]Remember those perfume ads? "If you like Giorgio, you’ll love Primo…." Back in the ‘80s, knock-off perfumes were really popular. The idea was that Primo is way cheaper than Giorgio but smells just as good. The problem is that Giorgio sort of smells funny to start with, and Primo is a cheap imitation of that.

This brings me, I’m sorry to say, to the album Radiate by Kory & the Fireflies. If they were a knock-off perfume, their tag-line might read, "If you like The Bodeans, you’ll love Kory & the Fireflies." Unfortunately, The Bodeans weren’t that phenomenal to start with, and Kory & the Fireflies end up sounding like derivatives of them.

Hey, if The Bodeans are one of your favorite bands, you should go out and buy Radiate because you may enjoy it as a fresh take on the flavor of Midwest guitar rock. But I just can’t get too excited about frontman (and co-producer) Kory Van Sickle and his entomology-inspired bandmates Chris Beyer, Andy Yost, and Steve Holbeck. Oh, they play well, laying down some nifty hooks on songs such as "Carousel" and "Platinum" -- two of the better tracks on the disc. Even these songs, though, sound dated. If I had heard them in the late ‘80s when the dBs, The Bodeans, Velvet Elvis and other good-but-not-stupendous bands in the first wave of "alternative rock" hit the scene, perhaps I wouldn’t be so underwhelmed. Now, it just seems like it has all been done before.

Even when Kory & the Fireflies come up with some nice tempo changes on the songs "Virginia," and "God," I just can’t get too excited because the technique isn’t fresh. It feels like they’ve listened to R.E.M.’s "Driver 8" or Guadalcanal Diary’s "Always Saturday" one too many times. Other tracks, such as "Lester" and "Sometimes" -- the single that has gotten some airplay on Midwest Top-40 stations -- neither inspire nor offend. They’re just sort of there.

And, I’m afraid, the lyrics on Radiate are nothing to write home about either. In "God," Van Sickle sort of growls,

"Yes there’s a God
I can’t believe that there’s not…
I want to ride my bike
In the middle of the night
From the top of the hill
I’ll go the speed of light"

And in "Zoothisway," he sings,

"Will you take me to the zoo
Will you tell me who’s who
I want to stare at the monkeys
Because they remind me of you"

The rhymes are forced and at times sort of silly. In passages like this, I found myself comparing Kory & the Fireflies to Live ("Let’s go down to the church/ we’ll find Lurch/ and haul ass to the abbey…Let’s go down to the bar/ it isn’t far/ we’ll take my car"). And, I’m sorry to say, this is not a complement.

In the end, Radiate is a rather nondescript disc. It’s listenable, but not exciting. It feels derivative, but not like a copy-cat album. I can’t condemn it, but I can’t recommend it either.