If ever a song begged to soundtrack a visual montage it’s “Five O’Clock World.” With its striking guitar work, competing counter-melodic vocal lines, and its lyrical celebration of the end of work, it’s an attention grabber. Arrangement-wise, the song has the structured classiness of the Drifters’ “On Broadway” or anything by the Mamas and Papas. The band behind the song were The Vogues, primarily a vocal group from Turtle Creek, Pennsylvaia who had a handful of chart hits between 1965 and 1970. The killer instrumental backing on the single comes via a kind of Nashville version of L.A.’s Wrecking Crew, featuring guitarist Chip Young (who played on Elvis and Dolly Parton records, among others). The opening guitar lick is so of-the-period and I love how the vocals create a percussive effect in this song, balanced against some soaring melodic hooks. The song and The Vogues’ performance exude the very essence of poprock.
Surprisingly for a track with this much tuneful charisma, 1960s covers are hard to find. It was common in the period for copycat versions to ride the success of a hit but perhaps “Five O’Clock World” was seen as too distinctive to reinterpret. The only contemporary versions I could find were by vanity records stalwart Dora Hall (b-siding her lounge version of the Rolling Stones’ “Can’t Get No Satisfaction”) and an instrumental from The Man from U.N.C.L.E.’s David McCallum, both released in 1966. McCallum’s take is eccentrically listenable, Hall’s not so much. Fast forward to the 1980s and Ballistic Kisses slather enough synth on the song to make Gary Numan proud. By contrast, Hal Ketchum countryfies things in a most refined way in his 1991 cover. The Proclaimers put their own distinctive vocal stamp on the song with its appearance on their celebrated 2003 comeback album, Born Innocent.
Now there are more straight-up rock and roll treatments of “Five O’Clock World” out there. Like the delightful, rollicking work out from Robert Crenshaw. Stepping out from behind drum kit in brother Marshall’s band, Crenshaw offers up a rootsy take with swing and some nice piano breaks. Bowling for Soup crank the amps and add some pop punk sensibility to the tune. Finally, Victoria, BC’s Scrunt Brothers indie things up in fine style with loud guitars and an X or Blaster-style vocal.
Great songs manage to shine through on just about any cover. In the case of “Five O’Clock World” just turn it on and watch everything around you become just a little bit more cinematic. No wonder Drew Carey decided to use the full 2 minutes and 10 second original single to open the first few seasons of his show.
Shane Tutmarc has spent more than two decades releasing records with bands like Dolour, Solar Twin, Shane Tutmarc and the Traveling Mercies, and as a solo artist. So there’s a lot of material to potentially focus on. Here I’ll shine some light on a track from his criminally overlooked 2014 release Borrowed Trouble, an album he describes as leaning on a Memphis soul style. The record is a perfect distillation of his Seattle-meets-Nashville sound with highlights like the McCartney-esque “Can I Count on You?” and the punchy horns of “Fair Warning.” But my fave track on the album is the lurching, organ drenched “Goodbye Love.” Let this one sink in. It starts off inauspiciously, with nice acoustic guitar, organ and your basic slow, scotch-addled vocal. But then chorus sneaks up and hooks you like the best 1970-74 era Lennon single. And each time it comes around that chorus exerts just a bit more magnetic melodic pull. It’s a sound that vibes a bit of Wilco, the Replacements, and Nick Lowe in his more recent ‘mature’ phase, particularly the fabulous organ work.
“Goodbye Love” is also featured on a brand new collection, a ‘should have been greatest hits’ album of sorts entitled Written and Produced by Shane Tutmarc. The record features work from across the breadth of his long career and from all his different musical vehicles. So many great songs here! Personally, I can’t get enough of the uplifting, anthemic “Brave New World.” Think of this record as a perfect Tutmarc starter pack.
I love finding a record by a new artist and then discovering there’s a whole back-catalogue world yet to explore. Get into Shane Tutmarc’s musical orbit at his website and bandcamp. Or you can order physical copies of his efforts from Kook Kat Musik.
Forget Schoohouse Rock! Today’s tunes are gonna school you on America’s Electoral College. What it is, who does what, and why it should be abolished. That’s right dear reader, we here at Poprock Record take a side – for democracy. As the bands below point out, the US Electoral College is an anachronistic relic of the nation’s pre-democratic founding. But hey, if politics is not your thing don’t worry, we’ve still got hooks galore. Or you could always do what most people do with popular music: ignore the words.
To get you up to speed on the relevant deets about our topic let’s check in with America’s smartest, bifocaled poprock outfit, Brooklyn’s They Might Be Giants. Their brand new single is a timely exposition on all things Electoral College entitled “Who Are the Electors?” Seriously, the song is a practically a wiki entry on who ‘electors’ are, how they are chosen, and the rationale for choosing a president this way. Of course, they do slip in a mild critique here and there with lines like ‘it’s up to them, not up to us’ and ‘we’re only the voters, they are the electors.’ Overall the track is both effectively educational and eminently hummable. Only these guys could put so much factual content into a song while sacrificing nothing on the melodic front.
From there, things get a lot more blatantly critical. ‘Song a Day’ phenomenon Jonathan Mann has been creating new tunes daily since 2009 so it was statistically predictable that one would eventually touch on American political institutions. Shortly after Donald Trump’s victory in 2016 he released “Abolish the Electoral College,” his ode to all that is wrong with it and what might be done to put it right. That’s correct, he’s not just complaining. Mann manages to sing about something called the ‘national popular vote interstate compact’ in some detail. Frankly, the guy should get some kind of award for making that proposal sound both musically and intellectually attractive. Meanwhile Bethlehem Columbus band Deb offer up clear criticisms of how the Electoral College violates basic democratic values like voter equality by privileging land and locale. Musically the track comes off like a shoegaze Bruce Springsteen with its soothing earnest drone and relatable content.
Perhaps not surprisingly, punkers give the Electoral College the best drubbing, coming out with both guns blazing. Chicago band Double Feature offer up a bevy of politically critical tunes on their 2019 release, American Dream Not Found. So many great titles here like “Alt-Wrong,” “You Can’t Silence the Scientists,” and “I’m Still Waiting for the Trickle Down.” But right now our attention lands on “I Dropped Out of the Electoral College,” a delightfully raucous blast of righteous punky indignation, with some great melodic diversions. Alternatively Roosterhead is a punk band from Los Angeles with a more experimental bent, but the politics is still front and centre on their 2018 release Virtual Democracy. With songs like “Dark Money,” “Kleptocracy Now,” “If Millennials Actually Voted,” and “A Swing State” there’s little doubt where they stand. However our featured song is entitled, predictably, “Electoral College,” a challenging melodic noise piece that nicely rhymes ‘college’ with ‘abolish.’
Rounding things out on this political institutions tunes session are a few somewhat unrelated songs. First up is a band called Electoral College. The only track of theirs I can find is called “Bladerunner” and it has nothing to say about politics. In fact, I can’t say much about them at all as they are pretty much invisible on ye old interweb. But the song’s got a cool, loose indie vibe, with just a touch of punk. Now, to wrap things up, let’s return to the endlessly topical Jonathan Mann. On his September 2020 release “Donald Trump is Gonna Steal the Election” he pretty much predicts most of what the Trump team would get up to shortly thereafter i.e. purging voter rolls, acts of voter suppression, endlessly and baselessly contesting the results, etc. Don’t let the song’s infectious upbeat tone fool you, it’s all a load of very bad news.
Well, now you know. The Electoral College is so bad that people even write songs about it. Will these tunes spark the institutional revolution America so desperately needs? Highly unlikely. But they do make suffering with it just a little bit better.
I love the 1960s-meets-1980s synthesis embedded in the work of The Romantics, J. Geils, the Cars, the Go Go’s and so many others. Today’s feature artists are cut from the same cloth. I’ve dubbed them ‘paleo’ poprock because they effortlessly channel the essential melodic and rhythmic elements of the style. Listen closely and you’ll hear the very DNA of poprock.
The Tearaways are a jaw-droppingly good band. They emote an early to mid-1960s vibe, featuring their own distinctive brand of Beach Boys-style harmonies and Merseybeat jangle. And the songs! It seems like every one is loaded full of hooks. You can check out a fairly detailed review of the band corpus on an earlier post on this site. Their more recent efforts are a bit harder to nail down. Mention of a spring 2019 full album release entitled We Grew Up on AM Radio appeared on the band’s Facebook page but the record itself is hard to track down. Instead, I could find only about half an album of singles available in the usual locations. But, hey, I’ll take that. “Sweet Sounds of Summer” certainly covers the nostalgic AM radio theme, segueing to a full blown side trip into The Archies “Sugar Sugar.” “Manchester Girl” gives us a delightful blast of Mersey-ness on a tune that would easily fit on any Paul Collins record. But my fave from their latest batch of singles is “I’ll See You Again,” a solid rush of shimmery poprock goodness. A new album can’t come fast enough.
With The Empty Hearts it’s hard not to feel that rush of excitement that accompanied all the best new wave bands. It was a time when a ringing guitar seemed to able to kickstart what had become a moribund rock and roll scene band to life. And with former members of The Cars, Blondie, The Romantics and the Chesterfield Kings in the band, I mean, how could the group go wrong? Their self-titled debut deservedly received accolades from all quarters, including yours truly. Now back with The Second Album, it’s accolade time again. Early release single “Coat Tailor” kicks the album into high gear with Romantics-style up-front guitar and hooks. Ringo Starr stops in long enough to add touch of Beatles-rhythm to the delightfully jangle-heavy “Remember Days Like These.” From there the record offers up a wide range of familiar mid-to-late 1960s and early 1980s sounds, like a great J. Geils soul vamp on “Well, Look At You,” or the Cars vibe on “Come and Try It,” or the Kinks-ian feel to “The Haunting of the Tin Soldier” or what sounds like a great lost Romantics single, “If I Could Change Your Mind.” The whole record is a breezy, fun party album from players who’ve mastered the hooky rock and roll oeuvre.
Dave Rave has had an incredible career, as a member of legendary Canadian punk/new wave bands like The Shakers and Teenage Head, and then in more straight up rock and roll outfits like The Dave Rave Group and Dave Rave Conspiracy. Over the last decade he’s put out a raft of great records as a solo artist and with his Minnesota backing band The Governors (you can get caught up on these releases here). Now Dave Rave and Governors have a new double album out, January and June, with 18 cuts that cover off everything from sixties garage rock to melodic jangle. The record takes on an impressive range of styles yet still sounds coherent. There’s a sixties garage vibe to “Nowhere to Rumble” and “Leaving Doors Open,” a Stonesy slow grind to “Trangression” and Ray Davies flavour to “Medusa Without Snakes,” and a sixties psychedelia to “Summer is Gone” and banjo folky feel to “My Little Town.” I love the lively bass work on “You’re Worry” and 1979 ska sound and killer organ fill on “Pull the Trigger.” But the undeniable choice for a double A-sided single here should the combo of the light and jaunty, earwormy “I Don’t Think So” with the classic FM rock radio-sounding “Walking Down the Boulevard” with its distinctive rumbly and jangly guitar lead lines. January and June is another no-nonsense rock and roll release from Dave, chock full of delightful surprises and reliable hooks.
A great band is one that just gels on stage or in the studio. They so know the rock and roll motifs they can reliably work off each in sometimes predictable, sometimes surprising ways. The Tearaways, The Empty Hearts, and Dave Rave and the Governors are such veterans, paleo-poprockers that turn out great tunes with apparent ease. Get your dose of their rock and roll via the conveniently provided hyperlinks.
Nick Lowe definitely likes having a crew to hang with. His many solo records often feature the same names popping up again and again, some from former bands like Brinsley Schwarz and Rockpile, or just people he’s picked up along the way like Paul Carrack and Bill Kirchen. Now if only we could bring them all together in a huge Nick Lowe ‘abominable showmen’ revue … What a show that would be! Well, given the present pandemic state-of-the-world and myriad contractual conflicts and obligations that such an undertaking might bring up, my dream show seems unlikely. But nothing is stopping us from showcasing all that talent right here.
We kick off the show with Nick, of course. He’s got a fantastic new single, a cover of Garnet Mimms and the Enchanters’ 1963 tune, “A Quiet Place.” It’s another example of Nick’s amazing ability to breathe new life into rare oldies, backed once again by his recent stellar backers, Los Straightjackets. Compared to the original, Nick takes the song out of its original Sam Cooke-soul register, pushing a more Arthur Alexander country-soul feel. It’s a delightfully mellow and melodic rendition, highlighting Lowe’s masterly of the ‘roll’ side of rock and roll.
Career-wise, it’s clear that Nick’s a joiner. He’d just got a look in on the pop psychedelia of Kippington Lodge and wrote their only decent single of original material, “I Can See Her Face,” before the band morphed into Brinsley Schwarz. Fairly quickly, Lowe became their main singer and songwriter. But listen to their cover of The Hollies “Now’s the Time” from 1974’s New Favourites of Brinsely Schwarz to hear him working closely on the vocals with Ian Gomm, the band’s other main singer/songwriter (who famously cowrote Nick’s biggest solo hit, “Cruel to be Kind”). Nick’s next band was Rockpile, a group that recorded either one or six albums, depending on how you count them. Basically, contractual difficulties meant that most ‘Rockpile’ albums were credited to either Lowe or Dave Edmunds as solo artists with only 1980’s Seconds of Pleasure an official release. From the 1976 Edmunds release Get It Nick and Dave nail an updated 1960s-meets-new wave sound on “Here Comes the Weekend,” a song they co-wrote. Nick’s last stab at joining a group involved John Hiatt and Ry Cooder in the ill-fated Little Village project. The high hopes for a band with this combined talent failed to materialize, record-sales-wise. Too bad – Nick’s “Take Another Look” definitely showcases the band’s considerable talents.
Outside of joining bands, Nick loves duets and guest appearances. He’s played on countless records by other people and they’ve returned the favour. He produced, performed on, and co-wrote a number of songs for Paul Carrack’s super solo album, Suburban Voodoo and Paul appeared in Nick’s backing band throughout most of the 1980s. I love their duet on “Wish You Were Here” from Nick’s 1983 record The Abominable Showman. Another artist Nick has spent a lot of time with over the years is Elvis Costello, producing his first five albums and one more later on. The two do a lovely cover of The Shirelles/Beatles song “Baby It’s You.” Old Brinsley Schwarz friends like guitar player Martin Belmont also reappear on Nick’s solo records. In return, Nick does the vocals on a somewhat different version of “A Man in Love” (a song from Nick’s 2007 At My Age record) on Belmont’s 2009 album, The Guest List. And then there’s people like Bill Kirchen, former member of Commander Cody and the Lost Planet Airmen and early Americana performer. His collaborations with Nick stretch from the 1970s to the present. “Shelly’s Winter Love” is a trio performance featuring Kirchen, Lowe and Carrack on vocals. The title sounds like classic Nick wordplay but it’s actually a cover of a Merle Haggard song from 1971.
Our show will need opening acts, of course, and here’s a chance to showcase artists that may not have worked with Nick officially but have either joined him live or delivered great covers of his songs. Two Nick Lowe tribute albums give us some direction here. Christie McWilson and Rick Shea offer up a lovely country-fied performance of “Never Been in Love” from 2005’s Lowe Profile: A Tribute to Nick Lowe while Ron Sexsmith puts his distinctive stamp on “Where’s My Everything” from the 2012 collection, Lowe Country: The Songs of Nick Lowe. Of course, if we’re aiming big, we could try to get Wilco to show with their 2011 take on Nick’s “I Love My Label.” More recently Esther Rose offers up an inspired reworking of one of Nick’s more recent songs, “Blue on Blue” from his 2019 EP Love Starvation/Trombone. Of course, if such an event as this could be pulled off the most appropriate opening act would be Los Straightjackets. Their 2017 album of guitar instrumental versions of choice cuts from Lowe’s catalogue, (What’s So Funny About) Peace, Love and Understanding, is outa-sight.
I got to see Nick Lowe live in each of the past three decades, on the Impossible Bird tour, playing solo with Geraint Watkins, and more recently with Los Straightjackets, and every time was special. My ‘abominable showmen’ review is unlikely to ever ‘tread the boards’ as Nick might say, but I’ll always have the records and the memories of those great shows. In the meantime, visit the above mentioned artists and don’t forget to drop in on Nick too.
The musical deluge continues on this second installment of Around the Dial as we continue to pick up melodic-hooky signals from around the globe.
I’m glad robots are back in style, like the guy staring back from the cover from the Blank Pages new record Is This Real. Fun and menace in one attractive metal face! Now while I was looking the cover over I was thinking ‘who put this XTC album on?’ I mean, wow, the Andy Partridge vocal echo all over this platter is remarkable. But not exclusive. The build-up in “Before and After” has a nice late-period Police vibe, juxtaposing an interesting vocal interplay over a spare musical backdrop. “Your Generation,” the seemingly muted answer song to Townshend and company, has a more Joe Jackson vocal style. Meanwhile “Robots Will Not Win” reminds me of the manic fun approach of The Tubes. But “Fall Away” and “Waiting in Line” are sonically like XTC love letters. Of course, they work because the songwriting is strong. And then there’s lovely outliers like the sunny poprock gem “Hang Up.” Is This Real is a crisp, fresh, musically adventurous outing worth indulging in.
How does a band take a host of ordinary sounding musical elements and combine them to make something so striking and original? Cumbria’s Mylittlebrother work this trick on their just released Howl. Check out “Goldmine” – it’s just guitars, drums et al, no fancy special effects or wild solos. But it has some crazy alluring quality, drawing you in with its hypnotic ‘oh oh oh oh’s. Actually, that’s it, the distinct value-added here are the various vocal adornments to some solid tunes. Take “Play Hard.” It kicks off with an Ennio Morricone spaghetti western vocal before settling in to a sturdy yet subtle poprock gem. I can’t help but hear a bit of Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson or even a mellow Futureheads vibe at work here. By contrast, “Howl” strongly reminded me of Hayden’s endearing alienation or the perky upbeat feel to “Responsibility” obviously bears comparison with the Beautiful South. The band even manages to wrestle the group singing sound away from the bombast of Styx and Boston to use for subtle melodic purposes, like on chorus of “Chicago.” Overall Howl works because it takes up a host of influences from the 1970s but manages to synthesize them into something new.
Geoff Palmer and Lucy Ellis are literally ‘having a party’ of sorts all over their new collaboration, Your Face is Weird, a wonderful mix of sprightly originals and inspired covers. Just click on “SWIM” and feel that swinging, grin-inducing, melodic charm wash all over you. Not surprisingly, given Geoff’s work with The Connection, the whole record has a winning Rockpile-esque sheen, but there’s something more here. Working with Lucy Ellis has brought to light another side of Geoff’s already sophisticated musical personality, as apparent on their tremendous cover of John Prine’s “In Spite of Ourselves.” Sometimes the songs are just hooky delights, like “In a Town This Size” and “Together.” At other times, the cover choices seem impossibly hard to improve upon (Kirsty MacColl/Tracey Ullman’s “They Don’t Know”; Sam Cooke’s “Having a Party”; Dionne Warwick’s “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again”) but the duo still manage to make them highly enjoyable. Surely “Crash of the Music,” with its punky poprock feel, suggests there a lot more mileage in this project. Sign me up for more!
With Zombie, El Goodo nail the sunny pop sound of the late 1960s even more so than normal. Basically, there less psych, more California pop sheen this time around. The album begins with “Things Turn Around,” a Beatles-inflected homage to their namesakes, Big Star. From there it’s straight back to 1966 with “Home,” a very Monkees excursion with Brydsian touches. I’ve always thought that The Zombies and The Turtles were musical cousins of sorts with their delicate, carefully-crafted tunes and El Goodo seem to re-create that with “I Can’t Leave” and “The Grey Tower.” Late 1960s country-rock gets a look in with “Forever Casting Shadows” and the International Submarine Band-ish “You Let Me Down.” For a bit of fun the band even throw in a spot of bubblegum with the Ohio Express-meets-Abba track “Fi’n Flin” and a hip take on a Benny Hill sort of theme, “Sound Good To Me, Man.” The record ends strongly with the Beatlesque “If the Coast is Clear,” nicking lines from “And Your Bird Can Sing” and a vibe right off Let It Be. El Goodo’s Welsh village must have had an amazing record shop because Zombie is a fantastic sixties-infused album.
Freddie Dilevi is the band, Pablo Velázquez is the stentorian voice and co-songwriter of the band’s tunes, and Teenager’s Heartbreak is their knockout 2018 full album debut that is now getting a worldwide release via eclectic punk label Rum Bar Records. Imagine if Elvis headed to the garage instead of Las Vegas in the early seventies. From the title track you can hear this band’s effortless melding of 1950s song styles with a strong punk/new wave sensibility, carried off with Velázquez’s mesmerizing vocals. The new wave element is to the front on “Die Tonight” and “Dangerous Game” while “Half a Chance” and “We’re Alive” so punks up the fifties. And check out the Sergio Leone feel all over “Johnny Remember Me.” Now to give this project a bit of a refresh for 2020, the band re-recorded 5 selections from the album in a stripped-down form as an EP, Acoustic Heartbreaks. And it works too – lovely, lilting, acoustic guitar versions of the originals, with a different but still pleasing vocal intimacy.
So much music, so many stations to tune into! In this first of two back-to-back installments of Around the Dial there’s hooky guitars and keyboards to spare.
If Matthew Sweet had joined a grunge band it might have sounded like Supercrush. It’s there in the sometimes unwieldy but always hooky guitar lines and breathy vocals on tracks like “Be Kind to Me,” “Get It Right” and “Have You Called Him By My Name.” Then there’s the should-be hit single “On the Telephone,” a song that pushes its hooks relentlessly. This is an earworm no doctor’s gonna cure. For contrast, there’s the shoe-gazey, Swervedriver-ish sheen of “I Didn’t Know We Were Saying Goodbye,” the hypnotic guitar riff-propelled “Parallel Lines,” or the hint of pedal steel on the almost country “Fair Weather Fool.” What stands out on this album is that no matter what kind of grinding guitars show up on any given track, a strong sense of melody carries the day. “I Can’t Stop (Loving You)” is a perfect illustration, sounding like a hopped-up Teenage Fanclub writing a Beatles tune. The album wraps up with what sounds like a great lost Big Star single, the wistful, acoustic guitar-driven “When I’m Gone.” SODO Pop is Supercrush’s first proper full album release (as opposed to just a collection of singles) and it’s a stunning, highly listenable introduction to the band’s considerable talents.
Sticking to America’s Pacific Northwest we head down the I-5 highway from Seattle to Portland to check out Blitzen Trapper’s fabulous latest album, Holy Smokes Future Jokes. Ten albums in and the eclectic band continue to fox expectations and easy labeling. Sure there’s the folky, country-ish vibe they’re known for on tracks like “Dead Billie Jean” and “Sons and Unwed Mothers” (the latter sounding like a wrong-side-of-the-tracks Paul Simon). But then things turn in directions that defy easy categorization. Both “Masonic Temple Microdose #1” and “Bardo’s Light (Ouija Oujia) have solid poprock feel, with a subtle depth reminiscent of the best work from Mark Oliver Everett’s Eels. Then the title track has that easy going laidback confidence that reminds me Aaron Lee Tasjan’s recent country-tinged rock and roll while “Magical Thinking” sounds like an indie reinvention of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. Then there’s songs that sound like 1970s AM radio should-be hits like “Hazy Morning” and the swinging “Don’t Let Me Run.” This record will undoubtedly be an end-of-year indie chart topper.
Philadelphia’s Foxycontin sound like they were inadvertently dropped from the Stiff records roster circa 1978. You can hear it on the title track “This Time You’re On Your Own” where it’s clear the band has somehow nicked Steve Nieve’s organ from Elvis Costello’s early records. What a killer single! While described in most reviews as pop punk I just hear a straight-up no-frills rock and roll sound like the kind desperately trying to escape the commercial bombast of the 1970s. Sometimes the band comes on like an edgier Romantics on tracks like “Alive in Interesting Time” or an American Graham Parker on “It’s Starting to Show.” At other moments they are the ultimate kick-ass party band, tossing off a host of great covers ranging from Nick Lowe’s fun stomper “Heart of the City” to the more obscure Brian Seymour song “Junk Passion.” And there’s stuff like “The Whole World Knows I’ll Never Get Over It Now” which exhibits the steely passion of an Ike Reilly cut. You ready to party? If you’re looking dance-ready fun, you won’t go wrong with This Time You’re On Your Own.
When I read that Bad Moves had opened for Scotland’s Spook School it all made sense: the in-your-face-politics, the dynamic mix of styles, the achingly open emotional themes. This is band with something to say. “Local Radio” kicks things off, gearing up like a cross between Grouplove and the New Pornographers. “Night Terrors” is all over the place in a wonderful way, sometimes vibing Spook School with a bit of B52s or sounding like New Pornographer’s Neko Case. Then there’s the almost-anthemic single and video “Party With the Kids Who Wanna Party With You,” a perfect pop song distillation of political anger and social coping. The record is called Untenable, as in the state of things generally is not acceptable. The band’s particular talent is wrapping this unstinting stand in accessible, inventive hooky 2-3 minute increments. Like “Toward Crescent Park.” The song’s got an opening guitar hook that reaches out and won’t let go. “Muster” has a Weezer-like pop intimacy with a punky Merseybeat break in the middle. I love the slow groove on tracks like “Settle Into It” and the more chipper clip defining “Same Bad Friends.” Then the record ends with another great should-be hit single, the swinging ‘ooh-oohing’ “End of Time.” As one reviewer put it, Bad Moves offers nothing but good moves here. I agree!
Montreal’s The Adam Brown absolutely nail the 1982 guitar/synth hybrid thing that was going on with “Indie Rock Has-Beens,” the opening track of their new long-player What We’ll Never Know. At the same time, I hear just a hint of Queen and The Vaccines. And that pretty much captures the dynamic animating The Adam Brown, a band that can effortlessly flash some influence without ever surrendering their own distinctive sound. I mean “Disco Mossman” had me thinking there’s something so White Album John Lennon going on here, perhaps with a generous dollop of Kraftwerk. But still, it is its own thing too. On the other hand, “Get Up” sounds like a new wave Bruce Springsteen to me, or “The Law Was Love” feels like all an out 1960s jam. Aside from the influence markers, what elevates this album is the songwriting craft. These are just some seriously hummable tunes. “Hummin’ Around,” “I Will Let You Run” and “Its Emotion” could all be heat-seeking hit singles, to my ears. What We’ll Never Know is the kind of record you’ll have on repeat a few times before realizing it’s run its course … and you’ll listen to it again.
Elvis Costello’s 31st album will undoubtedly divide fans. If you liked the more somber mood of Imperial Bedroom, The Juliet Letters, Painted From Memory, and North then Hey Clockface is probably going to work for you. Fans of Elvis’ rockier material do get a look in here on “No Flag,” a driving vamp not unlike “Tokyo Storm Warning” but with a few more melodic twists. But that’s about it. The rest of Hey Clockface is a cross between a jazzy beat poet-like spoken word slam (“Revolution #49,” “Radio is Everything,” and “Hetty O’Hara Confidential”) and a master-class in delicate songwriting craft and performance. As reader David Blumenstein cleverly quipped, the record is more ‘Eclectic Costello than Elvis.’
Most of the tunes here effortlessly conjure up a scene. “I Do (Zula’s Song)” sounds like a noir novel reads, with horns that transport you to some foggy late-night street scene somewhere. The once angry young man is now a master of the light touch, hanging clever lyrics over a very spare approach to instrumentation on lovely tracks like “What Is It That I Need That I Don’t Already Have?” and “They’re Not Laughing At Me Now.” But Costello really saves the best for last with the gorgeous piano ballad, “Byline.” The song is just one vivid example on this record of Costello’s still impressive vocal stylings. Listeners expecting another Armed Forces or Spike won’t find it here. But fans willing to grow with their artist will find in Hey Clockface a challenging collection of dynamic, sometimes jazzy, often tender songs and performances from an artist that now certainly warrants the appellation ‘mature.’
It’s not hard to find Elvis Costello. Hey Clockface is a chance to get reacquainted with a master who’s still got game.