A toy piano kicks off “Good Call,” the opening track of Gregory Pepper’s new album I Know Why You Cry. The song also features a pretty wicked violin solo. It’s all part of the unpredictable whimsy we’ve come to expect from Guelph, Ontario’s favourite son. But the song also touches on aging, life struggles, and questions of identity, themes that appear throughout the record. I Know Why You Cry is actually a curated selection from Pepper’s mammoth “Song of the Week” exercise from 2017-18, a “long, cheeky, confessional mixtape” says Pepper that produced 52 tracks of sometimes undisciplined, often manic melody. Amid the chaos of delivering a new song each week Pepper also grappled with classic transitional life events like losing a parent, having a baby, and rebuilding a kitchen. Now, almost two years later, Pepper offers up a precisely crafted distillation of the experience. And the results are good. Very good indeed.
The album’s ‘dark’ side opens rather sprightly with “Good Call,” despite a melody and march-like feel that belies its serious themes. “Bottle of Ink” is basic biography. Pepper is also an accomplished graphic artist that uses his bottle of ink to capture things that are ‘funny and sad when life is a drag.’ Then its full on into darkness, with songs exploring worry (“Worrier Spirit”), loss (“Maybe I’ll See You”), identity (“Unsolved Mystery”) and coping (“Bogus Journey”). But darkness Pepper-style is not really a downer at all. The tuba and Monty Norman Bond coda on “Worrier Spirit” cuts the dread down the size pretty effectively. Things do occasionally get somber, as on “Bogus Journey” when Pepper channels Yann Tierson in his Amélie and Goodbye, Lenin! phase. But never for too long. Case in point: the lovely situational sketch drawn out in “Sublime Sun Tattoo” where a shop song query segues into surreal speculation about Enya’s lonely castle and stalkers so obsessed they stab themselves. It takes a certain kind of wonderfully twisted creatively to deliver this stuff.
Flipped over, the album approaches ‘daybreak’ covering themes like pretension, self-examination, parenting, and mortality. Sound like pretty heavy stuff? Yes, but that’s not the Pepper way. He calls out bullshit on “Art Collector” amid squiggle horns, birdsong, car horn shots, and a cloud of uplifting background vocals. Concerns about parenting and the world our kids will inherit are given voice in a trio of songs, a mini-musical of sorts, that vibe Macca’s macabre Maxwell side, with perhaps a bit of 10cc on “Diaper Hill.” On “Bigger Than Jesus” Pepper cuts through his sardonic armor to offer a song that is just lovely in style and sentiment. But it’s back on “Father’s Day” where ‘he doesn’t want much’ … ‘just to hear the voice of God or whatever’s on the iPod.’ “Coda” reviews the album’s songs in a wonderful sort of ‘end-ature’ medley.
I Know Why You Cry is Gregory Pepper’s most fully realized and mature work, beautifully crafted, alternatively hilarious and touching, evidence of an artist in full control of his muse. And that is saying something given his impressive back catalogue. This record is heading straight for the ‘best of’ lists. My advice? Get on over to bandcamp and help make this guy a star.
Looking for a new fave 1960s-influenced band? Your search ends here. Today’s post is all about the beauty of Austin, Texas retro poprock should-be hit-makers The Ugly Beats. Often referred to as ‘garage rock,’ the band definitely has one foot in the car port but a dip into any one of their five LPs shows they have are so much more to offer.
Take the band’s most recent 2019 release, Stars Align. Sure, track three, “Count to Ten” is arguably garage-y, but it’s the tidiest one on the block. Meanwhile tracks one (“All In”) and four (“Heidi”) are vibing R.E.M. big time. The rest of album ranges across various sixties influences, from the Monkees-ish “In Her Orbit” to the early Kinks guitar squawk kicking off “She Come Alive.” What I love about this band is that the influences are obvious but never overbearing. “What Was One” combines an indie-fied British dollybird vocal with alternating jangle and power chord guitar – brilliant! And seldom have I heard a band use an organ to such good effect – check out the pulsating Farfisa in “Boy You’re in Love.” Meanwhile, few solely garage outfits can produce the nuanced Rubber Soul acoustic/electric guitar blend backing on “One Down.”
More good news: if you like the latest record, you’re going to love the band’s back catalogue. The 2005 debut Bring On the Beats established the group’s strong garage rock cred with some pretty sweet 1960s touches, particularly on tracks like “I’ll Walk Away” and “I’ll Make You Happy.” Think of what The Molochs have been doing recently and you’ve got the groove. 2007’s Take a Stand broadened the sound, upping the melody quotient (“Million Dollar Man”) and even throwing in a ballad (“Get in Line”). Of course, there’s more great 1960s garage numbers and few really unique departures, like vocal harmony-laden “Last Stop” with its great Rickenbacker guitar accents and organ shots.
2010’s Motor! put the organ even more front and centre on tracks like the Plimsouls-ish “Things I Need to Know” and “Through You.” While featuring the fabulous garage juggernaut instrumental “Motor,” most of the album sees the band flexing their musical chops across a number of styles. A bit of the Bakersfield sound on “Harm’s Way,” Blue Rodeo country tinges on “You’ll Forget Me,” some Merseybeat on “Please Don’t Go,” and classic mid-1960s American poprock with “Funny Girl.” 2014’s Brand New Day is more of the good same, from the manic garage intensity of “Up on the Sun” to the groovy jangle on “All of the Things.”
You just know from these records that The Ugly Beats would be an amazing live experience. Help fund that tour trip to your town by stocking up on their party-approved LPs from Get Hip Records (a label with a pretty impressive roster of other 1960s and punk-inspired bands!).
Marshall Crenshaw has long been my fave solo artist. Why MC? Maybe it was the glasses – he looked kinda smart and rock and roll. But what first caught my attention was the 1000 watt hook lighting up Field Day’s first single, “Whenever You’re on My Mind.” Has anyone recorded a more perfect seven seconds of poprock intro? I don’t think so. But then I’ve always been a sucker for a stunning lead guitar line – stuff like the Beatles’ “I Feel Fine” and “Day Tripper” or the Church’s “Unguarded Moment” and Big Country’s “In a Big Country.” But it’s more than just hooks that makes Crenshaw a poprock legend, there’s something about his songs that can always toggle the joy and an involuntary smile from me. And it’s all there with his combination of 1950s Buddy Holly and Everly’s roots, Beatlesque melodies and a 1980s new wave/indie delivery.
With ten albums, six EPs, and a host of one-off singles, compilation contributions and covers there’s plenty of Crenshaw to choose from. What follows is just my whirlwind and idiosyncratic take on a pretty fabulous and inventive career. Now to begin, let’s be clear that MC’s first two albums, the self-titled Marshall Crenshaw and Field Day, are pretty much poprock perfection. I shouldn’t single anything out – these records are nonstop ear candy. I’ll say this much, you can dance to “She Can’t Dance” while “One Day With You” is a masterclass in melodic songcraft. Funny, though I first heard MC via Field Day’s initial single, I didn’t pick up the album until years later. Problem was, as an older release (by one year when I first heard it!) the damn record never went on sale at my local retailer.
The first Crenshaw album I really got into in real time (i.e. when it was released) was Downtown and it remains my favourite, mostly for sentimental reasons. I bought it and played it non-stop in my first one-room apartment in Vancouver’s West End. It was both a declaration of adult independence and – thematically, with its retro 1960s Warner Brothers vibe – a strong link to my parents’ record collection. The album rocks on tracks like “Right Now,” “Little Wild One,” “Terrifying Love,” and “(We’re Gonna) Shake Up Their Minds” while Everly-ing the hell out of “Vague Memory” and “Lesson Number One.”
From then on I’ve pretty much picked up every EC release as soon as they hit the shelves and never been disappointed. If you’re just starting out, here would be my picks from each to get you into the groove. From 1987’s Mary Jean & 9 Others I’d drop the needle on “Mary Jean” and “Calling Out for Love at Crying Time.” You really get a sense of Crenshaw’s mastery of the hooky lead line here. 1989’s Good Evening is hard to make choices over given its exquisite, dynamic mix of originals and covers. Personally I love “Someplace Love Can’t Find Me,” “She Hates to Go Home,” and “On the Run” but really I feel like I’m choosing which limb to hack off because every song here is pretty special. In 1991 MC left Warners for MCA with Life’s Too Short. In interviews for the record Crenshaw talked about the work he put into extending his guitar technique and it showed on should-be hit singles like “Delilah,” “Fantastic Planet of Love,” and “Don’t Disappear Now.”
On the RunDelilah
And then Crenshaw left the major label scene altogether for the relative freedom of more independent releases, first with Razor and Tie and then with his own 429 Records. Since then he’s moved in some new directions musically but always offered up some melodic poprock gems, like “What Do You Dream Of?” and “Starless Summer Sky” from 1996’s Miracle of Science, or “Television Light” and “Right There in Front of Me” from 1999’s #447. In the new millennium there’s been “A Few Thousand Days Ago” from 2003’s What’s in the Bag? and “Long Hard Road” from 2009’s Jaggedland. #395 is MC’s EP collection from 2015, a kind of quasi-album at 14 tracks, and it sees Crenshaw back in excellent form with “Moving Now,” “Front Page News,” and a killer Bobby Fuller cover “Never to be Forgotten.”
What Do You Dream Of?Right There in Front of MeFront Page News
While the flow of Marshall Crenshaw new material may have slowed in recent years there’s no lack of quality re-issues coming on stream. Intervention Records put out a fabulous redesigned Field Day a few years back, complete with a rare 12” US remix EP, while Crenshaw himself is just in the process of re-releasing his post major label work, tweaking the production on certain cuts and adding out-takes and b-sides, starting with the fabulous Miracle of Science. Hustle on over to marshallcrenshaw.comto keep up with the latest news.
Just to prove my MC cred, here’s snap from my past featuring my unique bachelor apartment decor! Ok, this is actually my second apartment (circa 1987) but if you look up in the far right corner, you’ll see the Billboard magazine ad/poster for MC’s debut LP that appears above on the wall! Photo credit: James Koester.
Today’s duo of bands are like opposite ends of the Beatles influence circa 1966, with Rochester NY’s The Demos handling the sweet vocal harmonies and melody-driven tune-age while Sacramento California’s The Decibels grind out a bit more of the rockin’ jangle side of the equation. Both bands benefit from strong songwriting and some pretty inspired and unpredictable performances.
The Demos debuted with a low key EP, 2008’s Your Girl Has Fun Without You. The band’s essential elements are all there in the opening track, “I Gotta Know” with its spare guitar work and layered vocals. Overall, the EP reminds me of more recent fab work from The Rallies. 2011’s full album Lovely fleshed out the band sound a bit, sounding slightly reminiscent of Farrah on tracks like “Nervous.” And check out the full on ELO vocal palate cushioning “Don’t Wake Me Up Again” – breathtaking! 2016’s Paramount Clouds EP takes things in more Rooney-ish direction, particularly with the keyboard focus on “I Don’t Mind.” Personally, I think the 2018 If You Only Knew EP may just be The Demos strongest outing, representing another slight departure style-wise changing up the keyboard and vocal delivery. Should-be hit singles “Make It Better” and “If You Only Knew” vibe a host great bands like Guster or Sunday Sun without losing any of their own originality. The spooky background vocals on “Make It Better” alone are worth the price of admission! The EP also features a nice reinterpretation of the previously released “Nervous.” Oh for the days when a ferry could taxi me over Lake Ontario to see this band.
I Gotta KnowMake It Better
The story of The Decibels is like a script right out of indie rock and roll Hollywood. Promising band release a handful of great records to critical acclaim but poor sales. They break up. Then they’re brought back together for a one-off show and fan demand pushes them to reunite but, alas, poor health stalls the comeback. But somehow, years later, the band returns with new material and new lease on rock and roll life! The Decibels roared back into action in 2019 with not one but two new records, both critically acclaimed. Big Hits (plus twelve more!) was a rehearsal session of the band’s live act (focusing on cover tunes), originally taped to help them prepare to record new original material. But the record company liked the sound so much they insisted on releasing it. It was so the right decision. Compared to their other 2019 long-player, the feel of Big Hits (plus twelve more!) is a bit edgier, with a punky live vibe. It’s amazing to hear how they bring new life to songs like “Pictures of Matchstick Men” by picking up tempo (frankly, I found the original Status Quo version a bit plodding). The album is full of highlights like the glorious “Sometime in the Morning,” the melodically rocking “Ship Went Down” and “There’s a Place,” the vocally clever “Try and Stop Me” and the very 1979 stripped-down new wave sound of “Cover Girl.”
Of course, none of this is meant to suggest that their other 2019 release, Scene, Not Herd, is anything less than stupendous. The album is brimming with radio-ready should-be hits like “Hey Emily,” “I Need to Tell Her” and “Misery.” The renewed band sometime come off like a more indie version of The Wonders, the fictional group from the film That Thing You Do. At other times you could be forgiven for thinking The Plimsouls had got back together on tracks like “The Only Reason Left” and “Thinking About You.” And here’s a bonus if you just discovered The Decibels – there’s a pretty special back catalogue awaiting your attention! For instance, the band’s 1997 debut Create Action is a janglicious mix of 1960s-meets-1990s swinging tunes. Check out “Change,” “Something Good to Go By” and “Can’t Play Tag Alone,” the latter sounding like a compressed greatest hit of the 1966 mod rock and roll sound.
I don’t know what Sesame Street was on about but as the letter D has no money it clearly cannot be the real sponsor of today’s post. That, dear reader, is left to you, via your dutiful patronage of these fine artists. Visit The Demos and The Decibels to help sponsor ever more quality poprock programming.
Never underestimate the sidemen. Billy Sullivan has played with a host of great acts over the years. From local legends in Detroit, to various bands with other up-and-comers from the 1970s on, to the touring outfits of Gary Lewis and the Playboys, Herman’s Hermits, the Raspberries, and many, many others. Amidst all this activity, Sullivan has managed to squeeze out a few solo albums and a variety of singles, both original material and inspired covers. And they are freakin’ fabulous! Just open your ears to “I Go Crazy” with its mad ear-wormy ringing guitar and melodic hooks at every turn. This is power pop heaven. Or how about the spot-on Byrdsian jangle and harmonies coating “Everywhere I Go”? Magic! Both tracks appear on Sullivan’s woefully and undeservedly ignored 2001 album All American Popster. Yet Sullivan appears undiscouraged, continuing to release an occasional single or tribute album every few years. Personally I love his 2013 single “There’s a Fire” with its wall of guitars and seductive harmony vocals. Or more recently he’s got a killer cover of the Beau Brummels’ minor hit “Don’t Talk to Strangers” that definitely improves on the original.
Go CrazyEverywhere I GoThere’s a FireDon’t Talk to Strangers
In this internet age it’s never too late to make somebody a star. Do your part, click on the link, and complete your Billy Sullivan collection today!
Have you met Bombadil? Given the band formed in 2006 and has released 7 albums and 2 EPs, it’s definitely possible. But given our present state of low impact indie self-promotion it’s entirely likely you haven’t. Well, get ready for a sonic treat. One where every instrument aims to create a carefully crafted moment. Where the songs are intellectually engaging, though not in some hipster elitist sort of way but in a thoughtful everyday relatable way (e.g. “Perfect”). Where no instrument break is wasted but each is like a perfectly tended garden of sounds, both colourful and creative. Possible musical comparisons abound, from the quirky musicality of They Might Be Giants and Tally Hall to the wordy yet poetic lyrics of The Shins and the Magnetic Fields. Longtime band member Daniel Michalak once described the band’s influences as ‘Ernest Hemingway, Ronald Dahl, or Shel Silverstein’ as well as ‘science/math and computer programming’. One reviewer called the band, ‘obtuse but melodic indie folk pop with a flair for the fantastic,’ while another suggested Bombadil were like a ‘less drunk Pogues.’ Longtime drummer James Phillips described their sound as simply ‘pop-rock.’ That sounds about right to me.
How to describe discovering Bombadil? How about ‘enchanting’? A lot of that has to do with the bracing originality of the songs. The band’s catalogue ably demonstrates the continuing, seemingly endless creative possibilities left in a 3 minute pop song, whatever genre. And these guys definitely push genre boundaries. The folk veneer is there but can easily give way, depending on where the song goes. “Johnny,” from the band’s 2006 debut EP (also included on their 2008 debut long-player A Buzz A Buzz), illustrates this, vibing folk but quickly coming on like an outtake from Will Finn’s Broadway smash, Falsettoland, while from the same album “Get to Getting On” showcases Bombadil’s signature folk/country sound and their distinctive harmony vocals.
You can dip in anywhere over the band’s next six albums and come up with a treasure. Like “Sad Birthday,” “Kate and Kelsey” and “Matthew” from 2009’s Tarpits and Canyonlands. Check out the exquisite piano turnaround at the 21 second mark of “Matthew” – a killer and unexpected hook. Or the Pogues meets You Won’t aura of the songs on 2011’s All That the Rain Promises, particularly “Laundromat” and the lyrically eccentric “Leather Belt” (with that great banjo). 2013’s Metrics of Affection broadened the sonic palette with the Rogue Wave-ish “Learning to Let Go,” the magisterial “Born at 5:00,” the moving solitary piano balladry of “Have Me,” and the whimsically folky “When We Are Both Cats.” Meanwhile, “One More Ring” sounds like an alternate universe hit with its endearing melodic twists. 2017’s Fences continued the good vibes trend with “Perfect” an aptly named should-be single.
As luck would have it for recent Bombadil converts, a brand new album is out, Beautiful Country, and it may just be their best yet. I love how “Goodwill Socks” starts with an uber folky sound but then quickly adds more instrumental depth and hooky ornamentation. “The Man Who Loves You” is the should-be hit single, with a stirring vocals arrangement and hooky handclaps. And then there’s the lovely duet with Kate Rhudy on the “The Real Thing.”
Did I mention that Bombadil have recorded songs in French (“Framboise” from 2015’s Hold On) and Spanish (“Laurita” from Tarpits and Canyonlands)? Just one more reason to hustle over their Bandcamp page and buy up their whole catalogue.
Throughout my life, Nick Lowe has been poprock constant. No matter what was going on, the arrival of a new Nick album was always an occasion. I probably first heard him as most other people did when “Cruel to be Kind” hit the radio in 1979, and Rockpile’s “Teacher Teacher” cemented my love of his style a year later. And what’s not to like? I had grown up consuming my parents’ record collection – Chuck Berry, Hank Williams, the Everly Brothers, Buddy Holly, the Beatles, etc. – and Nick was like a new wave synthesis of all those influences! Over the past four decades he’s grown as an artist, shifting his songwriting style and performance, but somehow managed to stay true to these roots. Currently on tour with retro rocking Los Straightjackets, Lowe continues to release great songs.
In what follows I review Lowe’s album career, highlighting the non-hit songs that stand out for me as great overlooked poprock tracks, ones I think are strong on melody and hooks. No doubt other Lowe fans might choose differently but these are the ones that stuck in my head and remain eminently listenable to me, even after countless hearings.
Discovering Lowe in 1979, I had to play catch up with his earlier career releases. “I Can See Her Face” from Kippington Lodge was Lowe first songwriting credit in 1969 and arguably that band’s best tune. From there Lowe wrote most of Brinsley Schwarz’s material over the course of six official album releases (seven if you include the long unreleased It’s All Over Now) from the early to mid-1970s and he would recycle some of that material later as a solo artist, most famously “Cruel to be Kind” and “What’s So Funny About Peace, Love and Understanding.” There’s some strong material on those records but “The Ugly Things” (from 1974’s New Favourites, later covered by Elvis Costello) really stands out for me as reaching the Nick Lowe solo-era standards for melody and hooks. Solo material started emerging in 1977 with the EP Bowi and various one-off singles (like the faux Bay City Rollers tributes or the label-ripping “I Love My Label”). Lowe’s first solo album, Pure Pop for Now People (or Jesus of Cool in the UK) contained a host of great songs (“Marie Provost,” “So It Goes,” “I Love the Sound the Breaking Glass”) but I think “Tonight” really captures Lowe’s talent for tuneful, ballady material.Brinsley Schwarz – Ugly ThingsNick Lowe – Tonight
1979’s Labour of Lust would be Lowe’s breakout album, featuring his only American top 20 hit, “Cruel to be Kind.” But the album has real depth songwriting-wise with great rockers like “Switchboard Susan” and tender ballads like “You Make Me.” Personally, I was always drawn to the crashing intensity of “American Squirm” and the pop jauntiness of “Without Love.” Next up was Rockpile’s Seconds of Pleasure, where only six of the twelve tunes were penned by Lowe and that didn’t include the charting single, “Teacher Teacher.” Of the six, the sparkling jangle of “Now and Always” only slightly edges out “When I Write the Book” as the best Lowe tune on the album. By 1982 Lowe was back to being a solo artist but Nick the Knife failed to produce a charting single. Still, I love acoustic guitar-anchored “My Heart Hurts” and the wistful “Raining Raining.” 1983’s The Abominable Showman (despite its dad-joke worthy title) was a strong album, featuring a great organ-heavy Paul Carrack duet on “Wishing You Were Here.” But for me, “Raging Eyes” was the obvious single, while “Mess Around with Love” (Lowe’s reworking of his earlier Brinsley cut “We Can Mess Around”) was another highlight.
Nick Lowe – Without LoveRockpile – Now and AlwaysNick Lowe – Raining RainingNick Lowe – Raging Eyes
In 1984 Nick was an early adopter of the roots sound on his Nick Lowe and his Cowboy Outfit, a record that also contained a should-be hit single, “Half a Boy and Half a Man.” But I was more drawn to the poprock gems “Love Like a Glove” and “God’s Gift to Women.” 1985’s The Rose of England contained Lowe’s most naked attempt to get back on the charts with his own version “I Knew the Bride (When She Used to Rock and Roll),” a song previously popularized by his old pal Dave Edmunds on his 1977 album Get It. It proved to be a very minor hit that tended to overshadow just how strong the album was, particularly it’s folk-poppy title track and the inspired John Hiatt cover, “She Don’t Love Nobody.” Nick’s next two albums witnessed him struggling to find his place in the then contemporary music scene. Both 1988’s Pinker and Prouder than Previous and 1990’s Party of One had plenty to please Lowe fans but no hit singles that might expand that base of support. Still, for hooks, I’d single out “Wishing Well” from the former and “Who was That Man?” and “All Men Are Liars” from the latter.
Nick Lowe – Love Like a GloveNick Lowe – She Don’t Love NobodyNick Lowe – Wishing WellNick Lowe – All Men Are Liars
In 1992 Lowe took another stab at joining a band, this time Little Village with John Hiatt, Ry Cooder and Jim Keltner. With such an all-star line-up, excitement about the project was palpable, but the response to their sole album was lukewarm. Personally, I think Lowe’s turn on vocals is one of the record’s highlights on “Take Another Look.” Then Lowe shifted gears again, taking his albums into darker, more serious moods, with the release of The Impossible Bird (1994), Dig My Mood (1998), and The Convincer (2001). Here Lowe deliberately sought to reinvent himself as more introspective, mature artist, and the overwhelming critical response has been that he succeeded. Still, every album has a few more poppy numbers, like the uptempo “I Live on a Battlefield” or the more subtle earwormy “Indian Queens.” At My Age (2007) and That Old Magic (2011) lightened the mood somewhat, with the latter producing a particularly impressive range of material with songs like “Sensitive Man” and “Somebody Cares for Me.”
Little Village – Take Another LookNick Lowe – I Live on a BattlefieldNick Lowe – Indian QueensNick Lowe – Sensitive Man
While clearly slowing down on releases, Lowe continues to record, most recently releasing EPs with backing from Los Straighjackets on Tokyo Bay (2018) and Love Starvation (2019), both representing a return to Lowe’s more rollicking rock and roll sound. But check out “Blue on Blue” to see how he still has a few surprises.
Nick Lowe and Los Straightjackets – Blue on Blue
Nick Lowe truly is a legend of poprock and one of my favourite artists. He is the bar that I judge what great poprock sounds like. I can still go back and listen to any of his albums, enjoying them as if for the first time. Check out Nick’s website and Facebook page to keep up with his continuing exploits. You can also read all about Nick in Will Birch’s great new biography, Cruel to Be Kind: The Life and Music of Nick Lowe. Click on his name to find out more.
Was there ever a band with a more tragic story of fabulous talent meets destructive perfectionism and bad luck? If I were holding a contest, The La’s would certainly be in the running for the top prize. Main songwriter and singer Lee Mavers was apparently legendary in his inability to live with any of the recorded versions of his songs. He insisted on rerecording them with new producers again and again until his record company finally gave up and released his band’s self-titled debut album without his approval. Amongst fans, The La’s is an album that proves the band was more than a one-hit wonder. But for everyone else, if they’ve ever heard the group, it’s probably via their most played hit, “There She Goes.”
And what a song it is! From the hooky guitar lead line that lures you in, to the rhythmic acoustic guitar that anchors the song, to the hair raising vocal harmonies, the song really is poprock perfection. Personally, I prefer the original 1988 release of the song, produced by Bob Andrews, a slightly less sibilant version than the one worked over by Steve Lillywhite for inclusion on the band’s debut album in 1990. But they’re both great. Here’s the original and a Lillywhite produced acoustic version.
The La’s – “There She Goes” (1988)The La’s – “There She Goes” (Acoustic)
Commentators as disparate as New Music Express, Rolling Stone, Death Cab For Cutie’s Ben Gibbard and Oasis all think the song is pretty much perfect. So it’s not surprising it’s attracted some cover versions (though not as many as I would have expected). The earliest I can find is from The Boo Radleys, featured in the Mike Myers 1993 film, So I Married an Axe Murderer (the soundtrack strangely also featured the La’s original). Despite a rather bizarre orchestral take on the opening hook, the Boo’s deliver an great poprock version, with slightly more rocked up guitar lead lines and instrumental breaks. Columbia University’s acapella singing group The Kingsmen (definitely not the “Louie Louie” group) show you can’t keep a good song down, even when guitars seem pretty essential to the tune. Their version sans instruments from 1995 is strangely alluring. The last of the nineties versions is from Christian rock band, Sixpence None the Richer, who offer up a lush, aching take on the song that is still pretty close to the original.
The Boo RadleysThe KingsmenSixpence None the Richer
Things get more creative in the new millennium. First up, Japanese indie band Beat Crusaders offer up a brilliant techno remake that holds on to the essential elements while breaking the mould. Then The Wombats indie things up with their live-sounding version from 2009, adding some great banjo and vocal spontaneity. YouTube cover sensation ortoPilotgets around to covering the song on Volume 13 of his Covers Album series, sounding much like the original in an acoustically stripped down state. Last up, low key poprocker Salim Nourallah offers a softer introspective interpretation of song from his 2017 album of covers, A Break in the Battle, with help from Chris Holt and Paul Averitt.
Beat CrusadersThe WombatsortoPilotSalim Nourallah with Chris Holt and Paul Averitt
Great treatments of the song here but my prediction? We have yet to see the real flood of covers coming for this tune. “There She Goes” is such a perfect distillation of the basic elements of poprock songcraft in its combination of lyrical, melodic and instrumental hooks that it will prove irresistible to future bands. In fact, I think we have yet to see the definitive treatment (other than the original, of course). For instance, I would love to see an adrenaline-fueled jangle treatment from the guys who put together That Thing You Do or Fountains of Wayne or Marshall Crenshaw, to name just a few. Final treat: watch this interview and performance (of “Timeless Melody”) with Mavers and John Powers on Canadian Much Music from 1991 – they really were a killer live act!
Lee Mavers’ retirement plan is pretty much riding on this song so don’t be skint. Check out the various La’s releases and click on the artist names above to explore their broader music catalogues.
Right out of the gate U.S. Highball join the renaissance of great Scottish jangle poprock with their debut, the aptly named Great Record. The 14 songs included here immediately draw comparisons with the best of Teenage Fanclub, Dropkick, and The Boys with the Perpetual Nervousness. Perhaps that shouldn’t be surprising as Calvin Halliday and James Hindle have long played together in the delightfully whimsical group, The Pooches. Yet U.S. Highball is not merely a rebranding of their previous efforts, but a logical development of those influences. Great Record leans more heavily on a Brydsian jangle and a complex use of the duo’s voices on songs that alternate effortlessly between hooky popcraft and hints of highland folk. Case in point – these twin influences meld beautifully on “Summer Boy” with its distinctive jangle lead line opener. Or another candidate for lead single might be “My Frankenstein” with its swinging chorus. Then again, I love the mid-period Simon and Garfunkel vibe of “Old Place.” But then hear how the duo change things up with the rock-pop groove on “Where’d the Century Go?” Overall, you can get a clear sense of what U.S. Highball is doing by checking out how the band bookend the album. They open and close the record with their distinctive folk poprock sound on “Kelvinhall” and “Old Dumbarton Road,” leaning a bit more on the folk side of the equation.
Great Record is 28 minutes of jangle-folkish poprock good times. And don’t miss their 2018 EP Think Again, which contains three more highly listenable tunes. Just click on the Bandcamp link above to complete your collection.
Bruce Springsteen’s new LP Western Stars finds the Boss back in top form, in control of his muse, throwing off hooks shrouded in poprock adornments from the past fifty years. The album has strings, horns, Bacharach and David orchestrations, Born to Run sparkly piano, and Nebraska-era acoustic guitar appegiations. And the songs! Not since Tunnel of Love has Bruce produced such a coherent set of songs, such a thematically clear statement of where he’s at. There’s hope, love, loss and regret – the usual, in other words. But the balance of themes and performance captured here in on par with some of his very best work.
Western Stars is Springsteen’s cinematic soundtrack of a neoliberal America. Where Born to Run captured the insecurity of a boom-time working class that might just lose anyway, Western Stars bookends Darkness at the Edge of Town, Springsteen’s prescient, dark rumination about the beginning of the end of the economic good times for working people at the close of the 1970s. But with Western Stars, the damage is now done, and his various protagonists are just trying to hang on. Or simply hang on to their regret. And they’re still drifting. Songs like “The Wayfarer,” “Western Stars,” and “Chasin’ Wild Horses” all evoke that Springsteen-esque ramble, mixing steel guitar and a judicious dollop of strings. But the thread of possible redemption formerly dominant in Springsteen’s earlier work is much weaker here. With it’s Louisiana Cajun pep “Sleepy Joe’s Café” is the one backward glance at the good times. But compared to the dour mood animating the derelict and overgrown “Moonlight Motel” it can’t help but sound a bit forced.
Somewhere North of NashvilleStones
And then there’s the loss. Because no one does wistful regret like the Boss. The mournful “Somewhere North of Nashville” captures the pain of letting ambition get in the way of love, only to end up with neither. “Stones” is a slow-paced, country dirge-like rumination about betrayal. And then there’s the magisterial “There Goes My Miracle,” a song whose vocal soars with Roy Orbison-like beauty and sorrow. At his best, Springsteen gives feeling to that sense of failure that accompanies a late recognition of life’s poor choices. Still, the record is not completely devoid of hope. The acoustic “Hitch Hikin’” captures the joy of travel and discovery, while the horn and piano-heavy “Tucson Train” celebrates the joy of an imminent romantic reunion.
There Goes My MiracleHitch Hikin’
On this album, as with most of his previous releases, Springsteen provides no easy answers. His work is a series of life sketches, highlighting a nearly invisible working class experience. It exists as a curio for some, a desperate reflection for others. In the end, “Hello Sunshine” has the Boss admitting he may have had a thing for the lonely town, the blues, and the empty road. But now he simply asks for a bit of sunshine. And we’re left wondering if he’ll get it. Or, by extension, whether we’ll get it.
Bruce is everywhere. So check out Western Stars, give it a few listens, live with it for a bit, and see if you don’t agree it’s one of the best things he’s delivered in a long while.