blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
Four Chords and a Beat Keep Me Alive
3 Out Of 5 Stars

Neon Trees make flashy 80's inspired pop in primary colors. Lot's of flash, plenty of synth-buzz and jittery guitars, all sung over big hooks and plenty of melodies. They proved that they were capable of writing a radio ready song with "Everybody Talks," a song catchy enough to get covered by the cast of Glee. Unfortunately, that song set the bar high enough that expecting the new "Pop Psychology" to be more of that kind of flawless pop. Unfortunately, they fall short.

Not for a lack of trying. The first three songs are mighty fine pop tunes, and "Sleeping With A Friend" comes closest to the effervescence of "Everybody Talks," while "Text Me In The Morning" is goofy enough to cling to the roof of your brain. There's a duet in the form of "Unavoidable" that's pretty good, as well.

But that leaves the rest of the disc, Most of it is indistinguishable from much of the many bands worshiping at the alter of 80's new wave, and lead singer Tyler Glenn chirps his way through "Pop Psychology" like every song has to be drilled in your head through sheer force of his happy singing style, For one or two songs, it's OK, but after a bit you want him to change it up a little. You're all but ready to beg him to show a little angst or something.

"Pop Psychology" ends with one more plea for getting together. "First Things First" is a peppy song about putting your needs to the front of your life, to "get what you deserve." Neon Trees, to the very end, want you to enjoy themselves and yourself. Not a bad message, but there's too much sugary sameness and not enough by way of killer material to make the grade of the CD go any higher than average.



   
blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
Appetite For Power Pop
4 Out Of 5 Stars

For better or for worse, OK Go are more known as the band who make videos of themselves on treadmills and inside contraptions made up to look like real life versions of the Mousetrap game. What gets overlooked is that, for four albums now, there's a first rate pop-rock band hidden behind the paint balls. "Hungry Ghosts," four years after "Of The Blue Colour Of The Sky," captures that effortless pop fun that the band has been excelling at since their debut.

Admittedly, the oddly funky and falsetto filled "Of The Blue Colour Of The Sky" was a divisive album for fans, but that can be forgiven here. "Hungry Ghosts" keeps some of "Colour's" quirks while integrating them into the new music. It means the twitchy new wave of the debut is tempered into sonic neatness like the atmospheric "Another Set of Issues." They haven't completely forgone their fascination with Prince by way of The Cars, like the cowbell clanging "Obsession" and the danceable "I Won't Let You Down" shows. Vocalist Damian Kulash gleefully bounds from the straightforward power pop vocals to the funky stuff while making the whole of "Hungry Ghosts" a cohesive album.

While "Oh No" remains OK Go's high-water mark, "Hungry Ghosts" is a crowd pleaser. Fans will be happy to hear OK Go in fine form, and note that the four year wait was well worth it. From the pop magic of "Upside Down and Inside Out" that opens things up to the gentle strains of the final "Lullaby," this is a solid album from beginning to end, proving they can have their say without adorable trained dogs to guide them.



   
blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
Rocking Out Like It's '94
4 Out Of 5 Stars

Weezer took a four year hiatus before delivering "Everything Will Be Alright In The End," with much hullabaloo that they were returning to previous form, the kind that made the Blue album and Green album great. And guess what. For a change the hype lives up to the album. "Everything Will Be Alright In The End" is full of big riffs, catchy hooks and geeked out songs that only Rivers Cuomo can produce.

They even poke fun at fan disappointment in the lead single "Back To The Shack." They promise to play the "start with the lightning strap...more hardcore." They also let you know that even they are tired of "those stupid singing shows," But they also turn the other cheek with "Eulogy For a Rock Band." Did they feel like they might have been left behind? "Time marches on, words come and go," they sing, as they worry about becoming the kind of band machine that plays the greatest hits circuit forever and ever. It's a trap the band won't have to worry about.

Cuomo still turns out great turns of lyrical phrase like (in "DaVinci") "Stephen Hawking can't explain you, Rosetta Stone can't translate you." It's done in the trademark power-pop that has always been the hallmark of the best Weezer songs. It's no coincidence that Ric Ocasek (of The Cars) is back to producing, he was behind the boards of the Blue and Green albums. It's more of the point that Weezer wants to remind you that they have greatness in them once all the right ingredients are in place. That includes a duet with Best Coast's Bethany Cosentino on "Go Away," where she's the one calling Cuomo out for years of d-baggery.

That's not to say the album is pure brilliance; both "The British Are Coming" and album closer "The Futurescope Trilogy" suffer from blandness on the former and trying too hard on the latter. Even so, "Everything Will Be Alright in The End" compensates for the past few mediocre albums (anyone seriously looking back at "Hurley" with nostalgia?) and puts them back on top of their game.



   
blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
A Power Pop Supergroup
4 Out Of 5 Stars

First off, there's the pedigree. Wally Palmar of the Romantics on lead vocals, rhythm guitar, and harmonica; Elliot Easton of the Cars on lead guitar and vocals; Andy Babiuk of the Chesterfield Kings on bass and vocals; and Clem Burke of Blondie on drums and vocals. Then for bonus cool points, they were given their name by Steven Van Zandt. The freshly minted The Empty Hearts were birthed by the 60's British Invasion and filtered through 80's power pop cool and then fed through a garage band. The band themselves are wearing their influences on their sleeve, or at least their t-shirt...dig The Who shirt on the CD cover. Make no mistake, this is the real deal.

"The Empty Hearts" is a first rate power popper's dream. The garagey "90 Miles An Hour Down a Dead End Street" careens into a ripping harmonica solo courtesy of Palmar and the band chiming in on chipper 'dit dit dit' background vocals for an ace hook. "No Way Out" cops from The Kinks and The Who. Dig the fuzzed out guitar in "Perfect World." Elements of The Beatles, maybe a touch of The Stones, and certainly a tiny touch of the elements of everyone's band kick in here and there through The Empty Hearts, and it feels completely natural. That could come from the album's immediacy, the whole thing was hammered out in five days, frequently the whole band playing live and catching the first take. Credit producer Ed Stasium for helping capture lightning in a bottle, he used to do the same for the Ramones.

One other thing; no-one here is trying to re-invent the wheel. The band has already stated in interviews that they just wanted to bring back the fun of listening to classic songs and being in a band that enjoyed doing what they do best. When the final "Uh Huh!" brings "Meet Me Around The Corner" to a close (just after a gnarly solo from Easton, I should add), I just want to start the whole thing over from the beginning. "The Empty Hearts" plows through its twelve songs and you wish there were more. I can't think of any better way to describe this little chunk of garage-pop nirvana. I just wanna hear it again. Power Pop lives.



   
blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
Throw a Handful of Glitter in the Air
4 Out Of 5 Stars

Doylestown, Pennsylvania's greatest musical export has earned a spot of artists worthy of a solid "Greatest Hits...So Far!" Initially a teen-pop sensation (as shown by the easy to digest party anthem "Get The Party Started," she ultimately broke free of that label and came to the front of female rockers with both a mature voice and viewpoint. She was soon tackling songs about family discord and political commentary.

This diversity serves her well. The tongue in cheek "So What," tackles the over the top world of stardom yet it is soon followed by the emotional masterstroke of "Glitter In The Air," The pointed "Dear Mr President" expresses her political views with help from the controversy friendly Indigo Girls. I like that Pink isn't scared of a fight, be it the fictional one she uses on an unwanted suitor in the funny "U and Ur Hand" or the confused little girl of "Family Portrait." She is a multifaceted performer and - if you've ever seen her live - dynamic on stage.

You'll find it all here. The confessional of the bonus track "F---ing Perfect" or the affirmation of "Raise Your Glass," the second of the extra songs. She does it all, from hard rocker to thoughtful. "So Far!!" is an apt title, as her latest album "The Truth About Love" carried her farther along her path to artistic validation. Just one more point; the Parental Advisory" label is warranted in this case as there are plenty of F-Bombs to annoy the ears of the sensitive.


     
blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
Hungover
3 Out Of 5 Stars

In the span of time from their debut to their second album, "Love Drunk," Boys Like Girls jump from punk-pop emo band to all out boy band power pop. This is not a completely bad thing, as the super sugar choruses and duet with Taylor Swift show. But the evolution is not without some speed bumps.

First off, the good stuff. The lead off track, "Heart Heart Heartbreak" is pure adrenaline hormonal rush. The repetitive title kills it in the chorus, making for a great little earworm. Then the title track revisits the zing of their debut. Then comes the head scratcher. "Two Is Better Than One" is a ballad, but strip some of the electricity out of it and factor in Taylor Swift, and you have a country tune that would have fit just as nicely on one of Swift's albums than it does here. It also shows that lead singer/guitarist Martin Johnson can work his way around a sappy ballad with the best of them. It's the hookier tunes that play to the band's punkier roots, like "Contagious" that work the best.

That's where things go somewhat awry. Propulsive emo-pop and power pop are great for the guys that need girls and the girls that break their hearts. But the new addition of strings and syrup (like the closer, "Go," which limps the album to its end) make for the kind of song the band isn't quite up to yet. Add a southern accent and ditch the auto-tune, and these would be country ballads. While they make this country pop hybrid work much better on the follow-up, "Crazy World," it's a tough sell on "Love Drunk." It's as if Boys Like Girls suddenly took on a split personality and couldn't decide it they wanted to stay true to their Boston Emo roots or just pack up the cats and relocate to Nashville.

That's the issue with "Love Drunk." You get two distinct bands on this album, the whiz-bang pop of the debut, and the country-pop that would dominate the next album. Boys Like Girls were in transition, and while "Love Drunk" did debut in the top ten, their three albums are essentially the work in progress of differing mindsets. There's plenty to like on the album. What there isn't? Consistency. Hence the solid C grade.


   
blackleatherbookshelf: (Santa Brough)
Hungry and Young Beatles Mount Their Plan for World Domination 2 1/2 Minutes at a Time
4 Out Of 5 Stars

The second edition of The Beatles "On Air - Live at the BBC" is a collection of songs to remind you just how young and hungry The Beatles were in their early days. With a couple of exceptions, you've heard the studio versions of these a million times over, and the most rabid of fans likely have the bootlegs. But it's fascinating to hear how they sink their teeth into "I Saw Her Standing There" (complete with a 1-2-3-Fooour! count-off) or the already precise interlocking harmonies on the likes of "Chains" and "And I Love Her."

The intros and interview profiles also show how the Beatles were already establishing their individual personalities in the band format. George can be heard clowning around in the "Absolutely Fab" segment and Paul has fun with his old school house on "5E." The between songs banter is often as interesting as the songs themselves, but still, this was the height of Beatlemania, and each little 2 minute firecracker was a shout heard everywhere. "On Air - Live At The BBC Vol 2" still has a raw sound to it, and shows that George Martin was a main component to The Beatles' sound, but there's no escaping the amount of energy on display here.

What this disc also does is make me wonder why "Live At The Hollywood Bowl" has yet to see a reissue, or for that matter the compilations "Love Songs" and "Rock and Roll." There's obviously still an audience for all of these, so why are they still in the tape vaults? In the meantime, enjoy this, and Volume One, of The Beatles as they take over the world, one sonic boom after another.


     
blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
Gunpowder and Roses
4 Out Of 5 Stars

Bridging the worlds between Beatlesque power pop and Who worshiping British Invasion rock, The Smitherrens looked like they were the next great rock and roll hope to spring from the wilds of NJ. With a string of powerful and dark jangle-pop singles, it sounded like they'd make good on that promise. They also brought in other instruments (vibes on "Blue Period" featuring Go Go Belinda Carlilse) and strings on their highest charting pop hit, "Too Much Passion." "Blown To Smithereens" is one of those great compilations; a CD filled with what sounds like classic singles from a band that only charted two, and they peaked in the low 30's.

When Dennis Diken (drums), Jim Babjak (guitar), Mike Mesaros (bass) and Pat DiNizio (vocal, guitar) had their attack down, they literally did a blow-up of rock radio. "Blood and Roses" may be one of the darkest hits to straddle college radio and contemporary radio, When they found their way to a major label (Capitol), they got the promotional muscle to drive "Green Thoughts" to gold status "Smithereens 11" brought them a pop single in "A Girl Like You" and their highest charting album. In addition, you'll find DiNizio powering his way through should be classics like "Blood and Roses" (in my opinion, a masterpiece of the 80's), "Behind The Wall of Sleep" about getting a girl with "hair like Jeannie Shrimpton back in 1965" who "stood just like Bill Wyman," and a decent back to the barband roots joyous cover of "Time Won't Let Me."

Guitarist Babjack could fire off great solos, like on "Behind a Wall Of Sleep" and "Blood and Roses," with the band keeping rock steady behind him. The camaraderie put some other bands to shame, and they sounded like a band of brothers. "Blown To Smithereens" packs 16 songs onto its shiny CD, and there's nary a dud in the batch. They should have been megastars.


   
blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
Can you be truly weird?
3 Out Of 5 Stars

Panic! At The Disco take on a heavy banner when they proclaim themselves "Too Weird To Live, Too Rare To Die!" If you're going to call your album with that sort of proclamation, you'd best have the material to back it up. That's not the case. There's nothing wierd or rare here, just some standard issue emo-pop.

Which is OK if you're into that sort of thing. Along with their compatriots, Fall Out Boy, Panic At The Disco weave hooks in the middle of their pop/dance aspirations. There's a few more quality on this album than the previous "Vices and Virtues," and the recorded sound is eons beyond FoB's "Save Rock and Roll." They love their handclaps and hey-heys, and aren't afraid to play with the auto-tune, just short of overusing the thing. You can also tell where the inspiration for the big hit, "Miss Jackson," comes from when they ask "are you nasty, Miss Jackson?" In other words, what have PatD done for you lately?

They know what they need to do to make up for lost ground of "Vices and Virtues." Songs like "Nicotine," the new wave-ish "Girls Girls Boys," and even the Sesame Street sample on "Vegas Lights" scream, hey, we're back to our bread and butter! Hooks! Choruses! Brendon Urie singing at full-throttle! So yes, this is a decent album. The big surprise comes at the album with the affecting ballad "The End Of All Things." Elton John may have appeared on Fall Out Boy's album, but he's making his influence here. It's a beautiful song, although the auto-tune could have been ditched.

That's about the only "Weird" moment on "Too Weird Yo Live, Too Rare To Die." Frankly, they only lived up to their album titles on the power pop gem "Pretty Odd." That doesn't mean PatD aren't ready to share their pop thrills with you. Just be prepared to hear an album that's more well done than rare.


   
blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
Head Out On The Highway
3 Out Of 5 Stars

I'm one of the fans of Fountains of Wayne that grew into the band backwards, tricked into loving them by the fact that "Stacy's Mom" was such a ridiculous earworm that I had to have "Welcome Interstate Managers." Then I went to "Traffic and Weather," which I loved just about as much. Then it was time to go to the beginning and get albums one and two. Adam Schlesinger, Chris Collingwood and company have what almost every power pop wannanbe band in the world aspires to, and that is an uncanny ability to craft songs that sound recognizable on the first listen, even if you think it was by somebody else originally.

So why only three stars for "Utopia Parkway?" Well, despite the fact that the debut was classic almost from the first note, here FoW fall victim to the dreaded sophomore slump. You know the one where you have all your life to write the first album and 8 months to come up with the second? That's what "Utopia Parkway" sounds like to me. The influences are just a bit too obvious, the jokes a little too insider, and the songs just short of flawless. They still had more hooks that the proverbial tackle box, but there are themes on "Parkway" that they'd perfect in later albums. "Denise" sounds like it was the blueprint for "Traffic and Weather's" "Someone to Love," and "The Senator's Daughter" a warm-up for "Hackensack."

The band's penchant for checking off ironic references also doesn't make it past the obvious, like mentioning 38 Special in "Red Dragon Tattoo" or a certain contempt for the denizens of "The Valley Of Malls" (even with the killer guitar lick). I think this was the only time I listened to a Fountains Of Wayne album where I didn't instantly fall in love with everything there. Be that as it may, These guys love their pop conventions more than they sneer at them, which makes even the lesser of their records treats for power pop geeks like me. Even the mellow pop groove of "Sky Full Of Holes" 12 years later confirmed at just how brilliant Schlesinger and Chris Collingwood can be even when they coast. ("Sky Full Of Holes" was one of my favorite albums for 2011, I should add.) "Utopia Parkway" was just a minor pothole in a career that has seen more than its share of genius moments.


   
blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
Abyssmal
1 Out Of 5 Stars

After waiting years, all while clutching my old vinyl and long out of print double CD in my unrelenting grasp, I was really excited that the long awaited digital release of The Producers' two Portrait/CBS albums would be an upgrade to my valued treasures. My LP copy of "You Make The Heat" was signed by the band after I saw them in a small theater in Central PA, where "She Sheila" became a major requested hit.

But this. This is wretched. It's beyond wretched. It's an insult to The Producers and the fans that have anxiously been waiting for "You Make The Heat" and were unable to acquire it any other way. How bad is it? There's digital distortion and drop-outs all over the cursed thing. In the worst violation of a great new-wave classic, "Dear John" sounds like someone took an old, sun baked cassette off a hot dashboard after the car stereo had mangled it and creased up the tape, then posted the results here. I'm not exaggerating. It's that staggeringly awful. One can only hope that someone at CBS or the maybe even band themselves (although my guess is that CBS screwed them out of creative approval long ago) comes in, deletes this demolishment of a terrific album, and replaces "You Make The Heat" with the respect and remastering it deserves.

It pains me to say, but avoid this at all costs. As to The Producers themselves, I'm sorry that, once again, CBS made hash out of your work.

Get a good download of "She Sheila" here.

Addendum: I got an e-mail from the official The Producers' Facebook Community Page informing me that, as I suggested, the band has no control over what CBS does with these albums.



   
blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
What We All Like
3 Out Of 5 Stars


They may not have been the most original of the skinny-tie bands of the era, but when it came to pure hi-intensity energy, few could beat the 1980 debut album by Detroit's The Romantics. Fusing bar-band guitar fury with power-pop, this album contained the now classic "What I Like About You." While it may not have broken the top 40 for The Romantics themselves, it's become something of a sports-staduim and TV commercial staple.

This was The Romantics' original lineup of singer/guitarist Wally Palmar, singer/drummer Jimmy Marinos, guitarist Mike Skill, and bassist Richie Cole. (Skill would exit after the second album.) This was an album that reveled in the period's quick and dirty recording methods, as the album took a mere three weeks. It made the sound quality a bit spotty, like the way the harmonica overwhelms the audio in "What I Like About You" or the flatness of the drums overall. Still, that couldn't hold back the energy of "When I Look Into Your Eyes" or a cover of Ray Davies' "She's Got Everything." Red leather suits and all, "The Romantics" remains one of the better calling cards in the American New Wave movement.

There are, however, some problems with the Culture Factory re-issue that are frustrating (and drop my rating from an A to a C). At the end of "What I Like About You" and "She's Got Everything," there's a digital hiccup of some sort that repeats a fraction of the second of the song's ending. I therefore can only recommend The Romantics to collectors and completists.


   
blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
Twilley Mania
4 Out Of 5 Stars

Dwight Twilley has always been one of those artists that everyone expected to rocket to stardom. He bounced across four major labels, yet only two were ever able to break a single by Twilley into the top 40 (only one better than his former bandmate, Phil Seymour). In that period of 1979 to 1995, Twilley recorded so many should have been hits that "XXI" plays out almost as a singularly recorded album. The power pop hooks, the swinging guitar and Twilley's vocal style remain timeless, hits or not.

Twilley's two big records, "I'm On Fire" (1976) and "Girls" (1984), but struggled to get heard throughout his career. His sole album for Arista in 1979 had the Tom Petty meets the Beatles single "Out Of My Hands" (and the B-Side was an incredible live version of "Money - That's What I Want" that should have been here). Since Petty and Twilley were friends from their Shelter Records days (Twilley is in the background of Petty's debut), Petty gave Twilley some payback on the album "Jungle." That great chorus vocal helped Twilley get only his second top 100 album, the other being the Twilley Band's "Twilley Don't Mind." "Little Bit of Love" should have been a contender, as it had the same kind of longing vocal and a killer hook. But from there on out, Dwight Twilley kept making albums that seemingly disappeared on release. You still can't get "Jungle" or "Wild Dogs" on CD.

So this CD XXI, also ridiculously out of print, is the only place you'll find such gems as "Shooting Stars" or "Why You Wanna Break My Heart" (eventually earning Twilley some excellent royalties when it was covered by actress Tia Carrere in the chart topping soundtrack to "Wayne's World"). There's an unreleased anywhere else single, "That Thing You Do," which was inspired by but not used in the Tom Hanks movie of the same name. Combine it with the rockabilly "TV" or teenage heartache of "Sincerely" and wind it out with "The Luck's" "Grey Buildings," and you have a power pop collection every bit as essential as The Plimsouls and The Shoes, and a rocker whose star should have risen alongside of Tom Petty's.

Many of these tracks can be found on "Best of Dwight Twilley 1975-1984," only available on CD, not yet a download.


   
blackleatherbookshelf: (Default)
Perfect Vison
4 Out Of 5 Stars

20/20 were one of those millions of pop bands that was springing up around the same time as Motels, Plimsouls, The Knack and the whole high-energy scene. This two-fer finally re-invites the folks who didn't get the Oglio version a few years back (and was fetching outrageous prices) to hear one of the best of the Los Angeles bands from that era all over again. Adding a pair of B-Sides from the "Look Out" period, and this is essentially every song 20/20 released during their tenure on Portrait/Epic records.

The calling card of their first album remains the nervous wind-up of "Yellow Pills," which picked up plenty of airplay on Alternative Rockers like KROQ and still makes Power Pop compilations today. Ron Flynt and Steve Allen were Tulsa transplants that had worked themselves into a formidable songwriting team, which leaves such undiscovered gems like "Ride The Lightning" or "Cheri" overshadowed by the more famous songs. But 20/20 had the same worldview as fellow Okies Dwight Twilley and Phil Seymour in that a Midwestern sound filled with energy and a love of British pop could carry a good song a long distance. Add a new-wave synth or two and you were getting some power-pop brilliance.

According to the liner notes, "20/20" was recorded in a matter of weeks. The followup, "Look Out," took over a year. It also marked some changes for the band, with original drummer Mike Gallo out and Joel Turrisi in, the sound was also shifting. The energy was still there but a more American outlook was entering. The harmonies were even tighter and the lyrical content was taking on a darker tone. I was fortunate enough to interview Steve Allen when the album was released and he pointed out that the death of John Lennon and world turmoil informed the mood of the album.

Produced by Richard Polodor (who was helming some great bands in this period), there was no mistaking that the band had tightened up. "Nuclear Boy" and "Beat City" were vibrant looks at the world, while "Mobile Unit 245" and "The Night I Heard a Scream" looked towards life's tragic moments. While the nervous energy that fueled the first album was tempered, the songs were way more gripping and (like "American Dream") more experimental. They'd matured rapidly into their power-pop shoes. I still think it's a better album than the debut, though there are some who will disagree.

Together, however, "20/20-Look Out" would please any fan of Shoes, Motels, Plimsouls and bands of their ilk. From the label Real Gone Music, who recently issued the Shoes anthology, these guys took care to master the disc well and get liner notes from Steve Allen, Ron Flynt and Chris Silagyi, along with some cool blast from the past artwork and pictures. Now if only The Producers' two Portrait albums could get the same treatment, I'd be in Power Pop heaven.


     


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Shoe Tease
4 Out Of 5 Stars

Has it really been 35 years? "The Definitive Shoes Collection" takes 21 of their superb, melodic power pop songs and wraps them into one CD. The bulk of the disc comes from the trilogy of classic albums, "Present Tense," "Tongue Twister" and "Boomerang," then splits the difference among the remaining albums. Each track is one from the band's exquisitely layered harmonies, sugar buzz guitars and catchy melodies. You'll hear at least a dozen should've been hits, like the flawless "Summer Rain" and the heartfelt "Three Times."

Shoes were ahead of their time in 1980 when "Present Tense" first appeared and made me a fan. Time and admiration have caught up to the band, even allowing them the time to craft the excellent "Ignition" in 2012. ("Say It Like You Mean It" appears here from that CD.) What excites me more than anything is hearing all these songs newly remastered. It makes me hunger for reissues of the early albums - including the homemade "Black Vinyl Shoes" - for a new audience and old fans who snapped up the two-fers so many years ago. Until then, this set makes for an awesome primer for one of America's premier power pop rockers.



     

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Dance With me Mika
3 Out Of 5 Stars

For his third album, Mika does an about face and lunges face first into dance pop. This is more a Pet Shop Boys departure than a George Michael, gilded electronically and laced with precision beats. His unique voice still stands head and shoulders above all the production and auto-tuning (hey he really didn't need this much of it, thanks), and the songs are still catchier than a tackle-box. Once again, Mika borrows heavily from the classic pop songbook; if you don't think of The Buggles during "Love You When I'm Drunk," you're missing the point.

But there's something missing, which the delightful "Lola" points out. When Mika isn't being dancified or vocoded half to death, he's a stunningly original artist. Great songs like the title track and "Make You Happy" are gossamered to the point where the beauty of what was so apparent on "Life In Cartoon Motion" and "The Boy Who Knew Too Much" is nearly buried. Mika is in a new phase of his career, and he still excels. Just be prepared that, if you're coming off those first two albums, "Origin Of Love" is a different animal entirely.



     


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First Chance This Century
4 Out Of 5 Stars

Eighteen full years since their last album, "Propeller," (there was also Jeff Murphy's solo "Cantilever," the live "Fret Buzz" and a few archival reissues), the true pride of Zion Illinois return with "Ignition." The Shoes haven't aged at all since the 70's it seems, with the sugar coated hooks, candy coated harmonies and buzz coated guitars all remaining intact since the late 70's. That is not to say Shoes have not matured, but if you though their brand of Power Pop had gone extinct, "Ignition" will reignite that passion for all things dreamy buzzed.

First things first, though. "Ignition" is almost maddeningly uneven. I get the feeling this might have been better as a 10 song album, as many of the songs miss the immediacy of those classic early albums. Jeff and John Murphy and Gary Klebe still can harmonize like nobody's business and that often overcomes for the weaker of the songs. Besides, when your vision of pop includes both The Beatles (almost any given track here) and The Stones (the whiplike snarl of "Hot Mess"), it's enough to give a power pop geezer like me the frickin' vapors. You also can't help but get giddy from the wonderfully constructed "Out Of Round," recalling some of the brilliant ballads from the genius trilogy of "Present Tense," "Tongue Twister" and "Boomerang."

Okay, I am hyperventilating a bit. But as a one-time card carrying member of Shoes' fan club and a follower since "Black Vinyl Shoes" days, I'd pretty much guessed that these guys had called it a day. Perseverance and talent will out in the case of "Ignition." I don't know how far past the band's long suffering core of true believers will get this, but anyone who still slaves over their old copies of Pezband, 20/20, or other basic 4 member combos that looked towards "Rubber Soul" or "Revolver" as their lodestones should pick up "Ignition."

Choice cuts also include "Diminishing Returns," the melancholy "Only We Remain," the kick-off "Head Vs Heart" and "Say It Like You Mean It."ALSO: New best of!


     



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Go Get Some Motion City Soundtrack
4 Out Of 5 Stars

I loved "My Dinosaur Life" by Motion City Soundtrack a few years back, enough to automatically grab "Go" the week of its release. MCS are one of a vanishing type of bands (with the demise of Panic at The Disco and Fall Out Boy) making highly melodic but energetic punky-pop with wit and verve. But "Go" finds the band in a sudden shift towards maturity. It's a move that suits the band well.

"Go" kicks off as you would expect, with a hyper and literary "Circuits and Wires" that complains about singer Justin Pierre's faulty brain and a temper addled tongue. It's properly cheeky and hooky, as is the obvious single and following song, "True Romance." But then you start to notice something; the guitars are more acoustic than electric and the pulse isn't as frantic. In fact, "Go" sounds downright adult. There's nothing here as snotty as "@!#?@!" from "My Dinosaur Life" and, in one case, the strings swell up and you might even get choked up.

"Everyone Will Die" strums a sad lyric that is also the CD's shortest song. "The cycle of intense retrospection before the curtain call...who you going to love in the meantime before it catches you?" pleads Justin just as the strings swell. It's as big a surprise and stunner as when Green Day recorded "Good Riddance/Time of Your Life." Even more pointed (but not as shocking in sounds) is "Timelines," where the band produces what could easily be a fan fave as they rattle off life events like

"Catholic school, my private hell
I stuttered till the age of 12
Discovered sex at 17
And soon thereafter, self-esteem,"

Which renders almost everything else on "Go" irrelevant. Motion City Soundtrack are a band that has been making remarkably constantly good albums for a long time, and this may be one of their best yet. After several weeks of listens, it continues to grow on me. Always a good sign.



     


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Hearing is Believing 
4 Out Of 5 Stars

Tommy Keene is a power pop prince who so many folks have never heard of. Based out of DC, he spent two heavily hyped albums on the Geffen label, before taking his show to the indies, and this double disc, 41 song retrospective spans a quarter century of ace song-writing, killer vocals and jangling guitars that would make Dwight Twilley proud. While those two records for Geffen (Songs from The Film and Based on Happy Times) are widely considered power pop masterpieces, they only make up a fraction of this set. As per usual with brilliant failures, the Geffen stuff is long out of print and even the later albums are tough to locate without digging. That makes "Tommy Keene You Hear Me" as close to a must have collection as you're going to get from Keene. That even despite the doofy title.

Title or not, there's a power popper's knack for jangle-hooks, a rocker's passion for forceful playing, and the man is an ace guitarist and songwriter. You'll catch hints of The Replacements ("Back to Zero Now"), Cheap Trick ("Nothing Can Change You") and the ever memorable kings of American Power Pop, The Raspberries ("Places That Are Gone"). As eclectic as that is, nothing compares to the man's cover of Lou Reed's "Kill Your Sons," is which he pulls a rocking melody line out of Reed's NYC nihilism. He goes one step further with his own love letter to NYC, the acoustic kicker "Black and White New York." His recorded work has always been of a high level, which means that even his lesser albums always carried some kickers. They're all here.

My sole gripe is that the liner notes could be a bit more oriented towards discography information, but this album is laid out chronologically. That also means that disc one (Which leans heaviest on the original three albums and EP's) would be a five star record on it's own, with participation from the likes of Jules Shear and Peter Buck. "Tommy Keene You Hear Me" is a super strong set all together, and fans of power pop should get in line. As most of Keene's albums are OOP, you never know how long this CD will stay available.



     

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Moon Martin Comes Out from The Darkness 
3 Out Of 5 Stars

Moon Martin's first album as a solo artist was a watershed for him as a songwriter. This album gave Mink DeVille "Cadillac Walk" and Robert Palmer "Bad Case of Loving You (Doctor Doctor)" just to name the two biggies. Problem was, both of those artists actually sounded better on Martin's songs than Martin did, as this album has a live sound but thin production. That does not diminish from the fact that items like "Paid Killer" or "Victim of Romance" are ace bits of songwriting (and from the titles, should clue you in on Martin's view of relationships). And while Martin has a distinct voice, it isn't captured on "Shots" as well as it would be on "Street Fever" or "Escape From Domination" (where he managed a hit of his own with "Rolene"). As a relic of 80's New Wave singer/songwriters, "Shots From a Cold Nightmare" is a good work from a man who had better albums to come. Bonus points for the oddball cover of the Beatles' "All I've Got To Do."



     

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