There’s been a bit of a trend with actors branching out into music lately, what with Jack Black’s Tenacious D project about to roll off onto a headlining tour and Jason Schwartzmann’s much-lauded work as drummer for Phantom Planet. But some people — particularly those in power pop circles — have lately been talking about . . . Cousin Oliver?
Yes, that’s true. Robbie Rist, the former child star who is the most known for his small but memorable part as Cousin Oliver on the final season of The Brady Bunch, has been making a name for himself in the Los Angeles power pop scene for a few years. And while his acting career is not that much to speak of (after all, the character Cousin Oliver did spark an entire category for maligned shows on jumptheshark.com), Rist’s work as a musician is fairly impressive. He’s actually a member of Martin Luther Lennon, The Masticators, Wonderboy, Andrew, and Cockeyed Ghost, and he’s produced for even more acts. But the most promising of the batch (well, it’s a close call with the Masticators) is the Andersons.
It seems fitting that Robbie Rist would be in a band that is built around a somewhat cheeky concept, and the Andersons are just that. The joke is that three of the four band members (recent addition Marcos Anderson on drums was excluded) are brothers, but — ha! They don’t look alike. Frontman Derrick Anderson (the only real Anderson in the batch, he’s also bassist for Chewy Marble) is black, Bill Anderson is a skinny, brown-haired white kid, and Robbie Rist (credited here as is Bob Anderson), well, he looks just like he did on The Brady Bunch.
So that may seem a little precious, and it is, but the fact is that the Andersons are one of the high points of the power-pop underground. In a scene so vast with so many acts and few clear leaders, I frequently point to the Andersons as the quintessential L.A.-area power-pop act of the late ’90s and early ’00s. And Family Secrets, their sophomore disc, may not be a phenomenally great rock record, but, to quote Cheap Trick, they’ve found all the parts.
Family Secrets is, in many ways, more a collection of songs than an album, only because the frequent stylistic shifts and the swapping vocalists (all three members of the Anderson family get their turn at the mic) diminish any sense of cohesiveness. But a lot of these songs are pretty great. The opener, a scorching anthem called “Killing Me”, blows right out of the gate with ferocity and a mound of screaming guitar licks. And while the lyrical fare is typical “I want her, she doesn’t want me” material, it’s a nervy hard rock single that kicks off the album marvelously.
From there, the band careens through straight-ahead guitar pop (“Snub”, “Ledonia B.”), edgy rockers (“No One Rides for Free”), wistful power-pop (“Falling Out”, “Everybody Knows That You’re the One”), and even a goofball Christmas single (“A Million Dollars for Christmas”). And while the Derrick Anderson-sung songs do stand out significantly more than those by Bill and Bob, their contributions have their merits as well.
So, while, song-for-song, Family Secrets doesn’t hold up as well as the Andersons’ debut outing Separated at Birth, that’s a small argument since most of what is here is more than up to par. And there are a few valid minor complaints, such as the absence of the excellent, non-album “Listening Station” (included on the 2001 International Pop Overthrow compilation), and the feeling that the band is pulling in too many directions at once. But the finished product emerges as more than okay, and proves that not all child stars from the ’70s were troubled, and some even had their best work far ahead of them.