There was a time when the Mr. T Experience (MTX for short) was just another hack pop-punk band in a swell of them emerging from the clubs of Berkeley and other East Bay dives. While the group definitely had its moments -- Love Is Dead from 1996 is probably its most cohesive work --and crafted classic novelty numbers like "Alternative Is Here to Stay" and "Even Hitler Had a Girlfriend," it never could emerge from the shadow of Green Day's more incendiary brand of idiocy. It was a fate it took care to lampoon in "Dumb Little Band": "We do a record every year/That nobody's gonna hear/Or understand/Dumb little band/Not exactly in demand."
But with Yesterday Rules, the band's 12th album, singer/songwriter "Dr. Frank" Portman has finally begun to lead MTX toward a more mature dumbness, leaving the once-fashionable, now-tired pop-punk formula mostly behind in favor of more lushly conceived pop à la the Beach Boys.
With lilting melodies, chimes, harmonies and all the stuff of an actual pop ditty, "Fucked Up on Life" has a drunk-at-7 a.m. Billy Bragg quality to it. "Sorry for Freaking Out on the Phone Last Night" is one of several sensitive-guy-type tunes that soars on the strength of some nifty lead guitar. "London," a bona fide single with its teary-eyed acoustic opening and swelling keyboards, could find a place on the radio in a more perfect world -- if only Dr. Frank had a more palatable voice.
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Therein lies the permanent limitation. Dr. Frank's nasally vocals have always damped the quality of MTX's albums, and continue to on Yesterday Rules. Aside from the allergenic defects, Portman's voice is thin and devoid of range, which is difficult to get away with in any kind of music, let alone pop music, unless maybe you're Michael Bolton. It's a bit late in his career for Dr. Frank to hire another singer, but that's the one thing that could make MTX, finally, into a realistic national contender.