Gather round people and hear today’s topical troubadour Jonny Polonski give voice to what we’re all feeling right now. On his new single “People Are Lonely, Horny, Angry and Depressed” the man sings it like it is, namely that everybody is tired, randy, cranky and feeling blue. Of course, it rhymes when he says it. And the music is like a shot of Elvis Costello meets the Eels. So just listen to him and you can skip my blathering. You’ll be glad you did because Polonksi is a legendary talent. Though somewhat reclusive and mercurial in his recording and record releasing habits, just about everything he’s put out has been critically acclaimed. And deservedly so. You can dip in just about anywhere in his catalogue and find a real gem. To me, this one-off, clearly pandemic inspired single is no exception.
Falling somewhere between James Taylor, John Denver and Paul Simon on the singer-songwriter spectrum, central California mountain dweller Brett Dennen aces the acousticy clean, folksy pop song style. But his most recent extended play release sees him stretching into the more retro poprock field with “Here’s Looking at You, Kid.” The track has the feel of a great big song, a classic potential group sing-along with a beat so open even most clap-incapable can get it right. The roll out and beat is very Sonny and Cher circa 1965, with a bright guitar lead line that threads through the song, coming back at regular intervals. I can’t make up my mind whether the track is more Ben Kweller or Dusty Springfield. Vocally and song structure-wise it’s very Ben while the guitar timbre is so Dusty. The acoustic rendering of the tune really brings out the melodic lead guitar line too. I could imagine a faster version that would push the song more into the power pop genre but Dennen’s pace is A-OK too, a nice and easy, in no hurry delight of a single.
Besides easy rocking the guitar troubadour thing, Dennen is also a talented water colour painter. Check out his art, music, and seemingly constant series of online shows from his website and Facebook and Bandcamp pages.
Christian Migliorese has been doing a punky poprock thing for at least a decade and half, both with his current outfit The Feels and on prior recordings as The Tattle Tales. But his efforts reach their zenith on his brand new 45, the poptastic “She’s Probably Not Thinking of Me.” From a rather straightforward punk-influenced opening riff the song suddenly opens up at the 20 second mark like a Busby Berkley dance number with marvelous background vocals and magnetic hooks. The whole thing comes off like a wonderfully ragged mid-period Fountains of Wayne number. Somebody tell me there’s a whole album of this stuff on the way because Fall 2020 desperately needs to feel this good for at least 38 minutes (divided amongst ten or so carefully crafted increments). This song is a guaranteed instant-replay single.
The Feels barely mar the pristine surface of the internet with just a Bandcamp page and Facebook site that hasn’t been updated in six years. Maybe we can change that by sending this song flying up the charts.
Morrissey takes a lot of stick and for the most part deservedly so. His off-the-cuff comments about British identity, immigration and multiculturalism have gotten him in hot water with fans and critics alike. At root, his views are one part working class contrariness, one part auto-didact sloppiness. He comes out looking good defending animal rights, lambasting heartless Conservatives, and criticizing foreign wars, but can’t seem to get his default working class politics sorted, sometimes directing it to odious English nationalist outfits like UKIP and For Britain. It’s why pop stars make poor politicians – people consume music apolitically most of the time and the stars are seldom able to be accountable for their occasional outbursts. Expecting different is shopping for disappointment.
What Morrissey does well is channel alienation, that inarticulate and lumpy feeling of exclusion, at times with palpable dread but sometimes with a peppy spring in his step. His now long solo career is arguably so built on misery that its become mundane, truly the essential Morrissey cliché. But occasional flashes of brilliance still emerge. Like “Spent the Day in Bed” from his 2017 album Low in High School. Here Morrissey combines sympathy for the ‘enslaved workers’ with a critique of media sensationalism, less in a ‘fake news’ sort of claim than an old school left media criticism of the social control functions of modern media. As Morrissey opines:
“Stop watching the news Because the news contrives to frighten you To make you feel small and alone To make you feel that your mind isn’t your own.”
But ultimately “Spent the Day in Bed” works as a tune or not at all. And here some reliable Morrissey hooks emerge to give it staying power. From the skipping electric piano riff that opens the song to the earworm shift that occurs in the chorus the song is a winner, with a nice spacey bridge thrown in for good measure.
I loved The Smiths but can offer up only a lukewarm ‘like’ for the solo Morrissey canon and persona. Musically Morrissey has often exceeded my expectations as a solo artist, lyrically he stalled. But that doesn’t mean he can’t craft a great single from time to time.
York UK’s Bull are back with a revitalized version of “Green,” a song featured prominently on their self-released 2014 long-player She Looks Like Kim, and it is definitely worth a second listen. The original was certainly delightful, the guitar and vocals were a bit more up front in the mix, and the whole thing had a solid indie feel. But the new version smooths some of the rougher edges, turning the Turtles-esque background vocals way up and tweaking the jangly poprock hooks. The release is part of the band’s new major label deal with EMI so I imagine an album of new material can’t be far away. What direction it will take is anyone’s guess. The 2014 album was a bit punky and loose but this “Green” remake suggests something tighter and hookier might be on the horizon.
You can keep tabs on Bull’s Facebook page for the latest album and single news.
If you need a nearly mid-summer pick me up, a song featuring a deliciously addictive hook that will have you hitting replay again and again, have I got the song for you! Kyoto, Japan’s The Mayflowers have nailed multiple generations of the Liverpool sound with equal parts La’s and Beatles on this should-be hit single, “Maybelline.” The opening riff clearly echoes The La’s “There She Goes” (which itself echoed earlier 1960s styles) while the song’s broader melody arc reminds one of The Who’s “The Kids Are Alright,” without sounding derivative The guitars here are exquisite, sibilant and shimmering, while the vocals layer up perfectly. The song originally appeared on the band’s 2012 album Plymouth Rock, recorded at Abbey Road studios, but is also included on the recent 2019 The Best of Mayflowers: From the Beginning, a good introduction to the breadth of their seven album catalogue.
And while you’re here, you might as well check out the band’s loving tribute to the late Fountains of Wayne co-founder Adam Schlesinger, a just-released cover of his fab movie song “That Thing You Do!” Man, these guys are good! Here’s the fun video and click here to download the single for free. To download the song, scroll down to the song player, click on the boxed-in Japanese lettering in red, and then in the new window choose Mp3 or FLAC.
Check out the wonderful world of The Mayflowers. You’re gonna want to live there.
This startling new direction from Vancouver’s The Top Boost has a bit of the Beatles For Sale era country-style Beatles, The International Submarine Band and Buck Owen’s distinctive lead guitar player Don Rich. The band has always had a special new wave jangle going but this single suggests they won’t be contained in any neat genre boxes. “Tell Me That You’re Mine” takes off with a rollicking pace that doesn’t let up, riding some easygoing country hooks and nice pedal steel guitar. B-side “Early Morning Days” is no slouch either, offering up a slower, more measured dollop of shimmering guitars and heavenly harmonies. These guys are definitely going places. Just where I’m not sure but with records like these I’m happy to be surprised.
Mondello was a break-out indie darling in 2019 with a story of musical struggle straight out of rock and roll central casting. Boy works for 20 years on an album of songs (Hello, All You Happy People) that finally sees the light of day and finds an appreciative audience amongst those who value slightly eccentric DIY-plus power pop. What a happy ending! Well, now he’s back with a new single and it’s a killer. Get ready for a slightly more polished AM radio-friendly Mondello on this outing, which features a horn section, anthemic chorus, and excerpts from a 1960s surrealist Italian sex movie for a video. Seriously, the execution of this single is nothing short of masterful, reminiscent of that very British reinvention of the sixties that occurred in the 1980s with Elvis Costello and Wreckless Eric, among others. Give this baby a few listens and see if you don’t agree it’s earworm central. “My Girl Goes By” definitely confirms Mondello is no one-indie-hit wonder.
You can get Mondello’s new single here or any of the usual e-music outlets.
It’s hard to believe how much Graham Gouldman has given us. Back in the 1960s he wrote such iconic hits as “For Your Love” for the Yardbirds and “Bus Stop” for The Hollies and a host of other great songs. Then in the 1970s he was one of the four talented guys that made up 10cc, contributing to hits like “I’m Not in Love” and “The Things We Do For Love.” I remember being so blown away by “For Your Love” when first heard it on Vancouver FM radio station CFMI’s annual ‘BC 500’ marathon of the top rock and roll songs in 1980 that I immediately hopped a bus to Kootenay Loop to visit a used record shop that specialized in re-issued oldies 45s. I’d barely gotten home with the single when CFMI played “Heart Full of Soul” and I was back on the bus! Over the decades Gouldman has accumulated an impressive catalogue of material, covered expertly by himself and others.
And now he’s back with a whole album of fab new material on the just released Modesty Forbids. One hardly knows where to start applying the praise. “Standing Next To Me” melodically immortalizes his time playing with Ringo Starr’s All Starr Band, while “That’s Love Right There” hits all the right British musical hall notes, and I haven’t even gotten to the exquisite collaboration with Bill Lloyd, “What Time Won’t Heal,” a surefire hit in my view. But rather than a full album review (part of which I have sneakily inserted here as prelude), I really just wanted to bring one particular song from this album to your attention. To be sure, if you’ve liked what has gone before in the Graham Gouldman musical universe, you won’t be disappointed with any part of this new album. But to me, the album’s final cut is a particular treat. With its spare jazzy/folkie acoustic guitar arrangement and lovely light vocal touches, “New Star” is just a delightful, positive little track, evidence that this old pro has got a few more surprises left in the bag.
Modesty Forbids is available now from that swinging cool UK label, Lojinx. Find out more about the new album from interviews with Graham and his website.
You don’t get a much more perfect poprock song than The Who’s “The Kids Are Alright.” Crunchy guitar offset by a perfect vocal melody, backed by killer background vocals and harmonies at key points. Curiously then, the song has been both covered and not that covered since its 1965 release. A quick spin through the web-o-sphere reveals countless live versions by big name acts like Pearl Jam, pub rob darlings Eddie and Hot Rods, glammers The Glitter Band, and many many others. But studio versions don’t hit the major leagues as much. In fact, they’re far surpassed by punk and indie treatments. Personally, I find the punk ones tend to lose the sweetness of the melody by leaning on the song’s ennui. I get it – they love the rave up ‘I hate the world!’ potential. But in this post we’re going to hew to the hooky side of things.
American bands seemed to groove to The Who the earliest in the 1960s, with a decided garage and psychedelic bias (e.g. The Count Five covering two Who songs on their debut in 1966). El Paso’s The Legend cranked up a winning cover with some very groovy organ in 1968. Meanwhile Miami’s The Last Words offered a distinctive interpretation of the song in the same year, altering the melody of the chorus. Sweden gets into the act with the Lasse Lindbom Band’s 1979 more straight up poprock version. Then things take an indie/punk turn with France’s Les Calamités in 1984 but this version still manages to capture the song’s essential (and necessary) vulnerability. The last version from this early period is Pete Townshend’s own demo of the song, recorded in sixties but only released on his Another Scoop album in 1987.
The LegendThe Last WordsLasse Lindbom BandLes CalamitésPete Townshend
The new millennium has seen various acts cranking up power pop elements of the song. The normally very punky The Queers even out their sound to accent the song’s hooks. Not surprisingly, with Matthew Sweet and Susanna Hoffs it’s all super sweet background vocals and harmonies while tempering the more combustible sonic aspects of the tune. Possibly my fave cover comes from the reliably hooky The Lolas, featured on the 2004 Who tribute album Who’s Not Forgotten. And then for something completely different, there’s Joe Goldmark’s kooky but charming country instrumental version with John McFee on pedal steel.
The QueersMatthew Sweet and Susanna HoffsThe LolasJoe Goldmark
More recently a new flurry of covers have emerged, demonstrating how this hit just keeps on coming. Both The Connection and Keith Klingensmith and the TM Collective offered up sleek candy-coated versions in 2013 while The Ravenonettes turned all shoe gaze with their cover in 2015. Just this last year Jean Caffeine put a bit of edge into her otherwise melodic treatment of the song while The Decibels hit the jangle pedal pretty hard in a more rocking rendition.
A great song is one that you can hear over and over and somehow never tire of. Not surprisingly, such tunes draw other acts to want to cover them. “The Kids Are Alright” is one of them and as you can hear above, it’s actually pretty hard to mess it up.