“Come in here, dear boy, have a cigar/You're gonna go far, fly high/You're never gonna die/You're gonna make it if you try”
--Roger Waters circa 1975
Just finished watching Donnie Darko: The Director’s Cut DVD and am pondering the great question – “what if I could go back in time and change my life?” As well as reflecting on how our favourite pop music provides a soundtrack for our day-to-day living in more ways than we realize. For those of us obsessive with all things pop, anyway. In any case, here are eleven albums to give you more cause to think.
Last time around, the Vinyl Kings paid homage to the Beatles with the fabulous A Little Trip. The new Time Machine spreads its coverage a little wider – to embrace the Beach Boys (“Sycamore Bay”), The Hollies (“Time Machine”), The Zombies (“Pale Blue Dot”), Marvin Gaye (“Pray For Peace”) and many others – to take the faithful on a magical journey. Simply astounding.
Instant Pleasure (Self-released)
Talk about your instant pleasures! Heh! It seldom gets as immediate as this, boys and girls. Like honey dripping from the beehive, Swirsky pours it on thick and sweet with healthy dollops of pristine power pop. Sophisticated melodies, simple productions and a straightforward delivery will guarantee the sugary pop high only the best pop tunesmiths can dispense. The fact that the Rembrandts and Andy (Jellyfish) Sturmer guest star is mere icing on the cake.
Over The Top (Self-released)
Articulate guitar rock ala the Kinks, Badfinger, Cheap Trick, Fountains of Wayne and latter-day Beatles is the order of the day for this dynamic quartet. There is not a dull moment on this energizing album with its emphasis on melodic rock – never sacrificing instrumental dexterity for the tunes and vice versa. With a bit of country-folk thrown in (“Ordinary World”), Over The Top is almost the perfect pop-rock release. Now, how often can one say that?!
See You In Court (Self-released)
Musically, the Buckners come across like Weezer without the crunching power chords. Meaning, there’s a self-effacing geeky and tongue-in-cheek quality about See You In Court, which presumably would also bring to mind Marshall Crenshaw and Elvis Costello. Maybe. This six-track EP doesn’t really raise any temperatures though, to be fair, the Buckners get at their task with great gusto (and passion), there’s just not enough inspiration evident here. Still, the thoughtful “What You’d Like” indicates there’s a smidgeon of quality to look forward to future work.
Last time I heard King, he was playing drums for The Cloudsmen, an edgy pop band reminiscent of XTC. Elevators sees King take the plunge as a solo artist and I’m glad to report that the signs are promising. Sporting a stripped down veneer and a sound that combines nods to Pink Floyd, 10cc, Billy Joel and Paul McCartney, Elevators is a pleasant surprise. For fans of well-written songs and substance over form, Dave King has produced a real winner here.
Another band with a sampler of what they’re about – Goldenstate compares itself with Pearl Jam, the Beatles and Led Zeppelin. Whatever. There is a gritty edge to its direct guitar rock with tracks like “The Amazing Shrinking Man” and “Lucky Girl” supplying a solid one-two punch. The band goes introspective with “Hindsight” and “Lost at Sea” which it accomplishes with taste and honesty. Good sincere indie rock, which deserves the support of the pop underground.
The Fifth of July (Idol)
“It’s totally obvious,” sings Watershed as the guitars crunch and drums pound from your speakers (or headphones). Revealing a vigorous deference of 70s power pop – Badfinger/Raspberries/Cheap Trick – Watershed do not attempt to obscure where it is coming from--that sweet spot between heart and soul. The opening “Obvious” sets the tone well with its intense vocals, its unrelenting beat and robust performance. The rest of The Fifth of July follows this well trodden path…
Prizes from the Groove Arcade (Self-released)
Sensing that the Larch hailed from Brooklyn did not prepare me for singer-songwriter Ian Roure’s Anglo vocal affectation until--you realize that Roure is a Brit! Heh, makes sense, eh? So no surprise that The Larch (shame about the name, though) ploughs through pretty game Britpop-like material on this competent release. With enough nods to XTC, Martin Newell, Blur and Soft Boys to keep most Anglophiles pleased. The Larch does do enough for that second listen.
As Seen On TV (Self-released)
To their credit, The Pulltops have probably not found a distinctive formula to stick to and thus, on their sophomore effort; the Milwaukee trio apply their pop-rock brush to a variety of moods and sounds. So on songs like “Summer Sunrise,” the band manages to combine touching verses, sparse instrumentation and an anthemic chorus to create a royal buzz. The rest of As Seen on TV is all over the map (and that is a compliment) – from country-folk blues, psychedelic rock to power pop, The Pulltops pull (ouch!) it all off with authenticity and zeal. And oh yeah, thanks for the PopRocks, boys…
A Houseguest’s Wish (Words On Music)
An entire tribute album for one song! Sub-titled “Translations of Wire’s ‘Outdoor Miner,’” this release features 19 (count ‘em!) versions of that seminal track. So you probably don’t need to tell you that every conceivable style is explored here. You name it – folk, orchestral, electronic, punk, metal, power pop, rock – someone’s doing it here. Of the artists here, you may have heard of the likes of Lush, Adam (Swervedriver) Franklin and Flying Saucer Attack. Personally, I’m enamoured by Kick on the Floods’ Beach Boy-flavoured interpretation, Boy Division’s nihilistic take and of course Lush’s 1991 cover. Good fun, all told.
Planet of the Popboomerang Vol. 2 (Popboomerang)
Ok, here’s the deal. Straight after you finish reading this column, I demand that you click on the Popboomerang link above and order a couple of copies (one for you and the rest for your good friends: what’s the matter? You don’t wanna give your loved ones good things? For shame!) Got that? You want to know the reason why? Well, for one thing there are forty-six dynamic songs here that demonstrate that power pop is alive and kicking all over the world. For another, you will be treated to kickass bands from Japan, Denmark, Norway, France, Scotland, England, New Zealand, Australia and of course, the US of A! What more could any self-respecting power pop fan ask for? You will not regret it… what are you waiting for?
All right, that’s March 2005 out of the way. It’s been real. God bless!