News keep breaking on the brand new poprock music front. In our second news episode in as many days we kick out the rock and roll jams, shine up our jangle, and court some seriously superior songwriting. Grab these headlines and have a party!
I only recently discovered The Friends of Cesar Romero with their sparkling single “Summer Boyfriend.” Now I’ve discovered they reach a whole new level of visceral rocking greatness via their just released album War Party Favors. This is a band that comes on strong, often with a wall of rock and roll guitars and a strong vocal assault. The record’s opening title cut “War Party Favors” exemplifies this ‘tude with its punky, you’re-on-a-thrill-ride abandon. But you never have to look far on any FCR effort to find some laconic melodies and irresistible hooks. Like those alluring guitar riffs all over “The Lonely Popular Girl” that keep drawing you in, waiting for more. Or “Neon Teens” which comes on like some kind of Joan Jett deep cut, alternating demure verses with anthemic choruses. Then there’s “Beauty and the Broken Heart,” essentially a Phil Spector girl group song cast in more rock and roll register. Personally I’m loving “Thinkin’ About Leaving’” with its hooky lead guitar work and very Phil Seymour vocal, as well as the stunning Buddy Holly-doing-new-wave masterpiece, “Baby How Long.” I could describe them all but hearing them will make you a believer. And with 16 tracks for the price of a single album War Party Favors is definitely value for poprock money.
Robert Ellis Orrall is the man behind the hits and hit-makers as a songwriter, producer and record label impresario. He himself had a few major label deals, he did make the charts a few times back in the day, but over his long career he’s mostly avoided the spotlight for himself. Until recently. With a global pandemic unfolding Orrall decided it was time to make a musical statement of his own. And readers we are the lucky beneficiaries because REO not only writes great songs, he’s great at performing them too. Sometimes funny, often smartly political, always engaging musically, previous releases have included clever tunes like “Trust Me, I Work for the Government,” “Clear Channel,” and “Al Gore, the Musical.” But this review is about his latest release, 467 Surf and Gun Club, named for his Memphis record label flop house. There’s a low-key rock opera feel to the musical proceedings, with a number of songs offering up exposition on Orrall’s record label locale and what took place there. Our hero emerges from “In Dreams” to a musical landscape defined by dreamy Beach Boys harmonies. On “Morning Song” our protagonist gets ready to take on another rock and roll day. Then “Here in our Backyard,” “467 Surf and Gun Club” and “Welcome to Paradise” are like musical montage sequences that fill in all the details. Stylistically, the Beach Boys influence is up front and all over this record, occasionally tempered by a flash of Hall and Oates in the hooks department. Other influences abound, like the obvious love for the Beatles on “Iceberg” or Todd Rundgren on “Miserable.” In terms of a clear hit single, there’s no contest: “Sunshine” is a joyous 2 and half minutes, full stop. It’s what truly great 45s are all about. With 467 Surf and Gun Club Robert Ellis Orrall may be closing up shop on one musical era but the door is clearly opening up on another.
This is a somewhat new sounding theCatherines long-player. Sure, the curio poprock songwriting is still going on. And there’s plenty of that jangly guitar we’ve come to expect from this combo. But Sink Into Oblivion is a departure of sorts. First, it has cleaner, less DIY sound. You can really hear the vocals, now more up-front in the mix than ever before. Second, the songwriting ambition here casts a wider net. There’s a Style Council urbane sophistication to tunes like opening cut “You Never Have Any Self-Doubts, Do You?” or a Pet Shot Boys panache all over “Let’s Write the Book of Love.” Of course, there’s some good old fashioned theCatherines here too, apparent on “Love is Just Far Away Today” and “Where Have I Gone Wrong.” But check out the café jazz pop stylings on “You’ve Got It All Wrong,” “Kid P.” and “Terrible Loser.” Or the classy piano opening to that cool slice of 1979 melodic pop, “Sappy Together.” The band also conjure up some Bacharach and David for “Like a Song by Nichols and Williams” and give an Attractions-like backing to “At Least Your Bird Can Sing.” But my fave contribution here “Lift Me Up To Your Level” with its terrific guitar/keyboard interplay really adding something special to an already solid tune. On Sink Into Oblivion succumbing to stupor never sounded so good.
Maybe it’s just my faulty memory but alongside the rock and MOR bombast of the 1980s were a host of super 1960s-inspired, melody-focused rock and roll outfits. To my ears, Seattle’s BPM Collective nail that sound. Their debut EP Catastrophe Girl is a stunning showcase of poprock styles from that decade, and they’ve got it sounding fresher than ever. Just give the title track “Catastrophe Girl” a spin to get swept up in a soaring melody and driving mix of distinctive organ and guitars. The vibe is so familiar, like an early Bangles or mid-period Don Dixon tune. And while the “Adelaide” sung about here is probably in Washington state, the song does have a haunting Down Under music scene kind of feel. What I find so impressive about this EP is the remarkable range of songwriting across just five songs. Note the touch of Merseyside on “Mr Congeniality” or the hint of Roxy Music in the chorus of the otherwise Americana poprocking “Something to Dream About.” And then there’s the Orbison-esque vocal turns of phrase colouring in the sombre “The Valley.” Wow. This baby is heading for the ‘best of the year’ lists for sure.
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