Over the course of its two previous albums, the Baltimore-based band Milkshake has been content to mine a poppier seam of kids' music. While I wouldn't call them sentimental, their songs are usually sunny and optimistic -- there's little mischieviousness in their songs (at least lyrically.
On their third album Play!, released this week, Milkshake doesn't veer much from the approach on their previous albums, but does simultaneously broaden their musical palette while narrowing the topical scope a little bit. Play! is, loosely defined, a concept album about the different ways kids play. From the opening track "We've Got a Band" (playing musical instruments) to the '80s power-poppy title track, Mikel Gehl and Lisa Matthews sing about the fun of play. There are songs about make-believe play (the Beatlesque "Imagination Nation," "Pirates," "Home on the Rang") to go along with songs about playing sports ("Bowling with You," or "Baseball," with a Cal Ripkin cameo). What saves the lyrics from being cloying to adult ears is the specificity -- it's one thing to sing about how much fun it is to spend time with your family, it's another thing entirely to make that song about bowling. It grounds the song in a reality that, while it might not apply to your family, is certainly relatable.
Musically, Milkshake adds a few nice touches to their pop-rock approach. The Bacharach horns on "Okay to be Different," for example, or the sea chanty of "Pirates." While Milkshake's version of going wild ("Go Wild") is, well, more mild than wild, they don't completely abandon the rock -- the closing cut "My Best Friend," is a snappy slice of power-pop that starts at about 60 miles an hour, never lets up, and wraps up in less than 2 minutes. (In fact, I really like the last 5 tracks.)
Milkshake is not everyone's cup of tea -- they're writing happy pop songs for happy kids. But they do this better than most of the kids' bands out there and Play! is their best album yet. Recommended, especially if you've enjoyed their other CDs.