In the early 1980s I went to see Gerry and the Pacemakers play at the International Plaza Hotel in North Vancouver. It was a small room but Gerry was larger than life and clearly a few decades older than his replacement Pacemakers. He belted out his early 1960s hits and closed the show with a version of then chart-topping Lionel Ritchie’s “Hello.” Gerry was a great showman but I left feeling a bit sad. Was this the unavoidable fate of every one-time hit maker? Recycling their past night after night? The good news is, no. Some artists manage to find new inspiration and keep on producing exciting new music.
A while back we featured the criminally overlooked Fire Town, a band who put out two great albums of country-tinged poprock in the late 1980s before its members went off to super fame (Butch Vig and Doug Erikson to Garbage) or out of music altogether (Phil Davis). In 2012 Vig and Davis, along with a few other old friends from their musical pasts, reunited to form The Emperors of Wyoming, a kind of revival of the Fire Town project, minus some of the shimmering guitars and with a bit more of a gritty western sound. The results are fantastic. “Bittersweet Sound of Goodbye” opens the record with pretty much the formula of what is to come: acoustic guitar anchoring the sound, nice lead guitar flourishes, and an achingly sad tenor to the vocals. Next up is the album’s marquee single, “Avalanche Girl,” a pretty solid slab poprock songwriting. Everything about this song rolls out flawlessly: strong hooks, great vocals and a host of nice guitar motifs tucked in here and there. The whole record is pretty solid, though I’d single out “I Don’t Know Why I Love You” for its humour and super banjo. I Don’t Know Why I Love You
The Empty Hearts draw more broadly for their resurrected super-group, including former members of Blondie, the Cars, the Romantics and the Chesterfield Kings. Former Romantics lead singer Wally Palmar gives the group a distinctive vocal stamp, aided by new wave producer Ed Stasium’s crisp production. “I Don’t Want Your Love” is a fun sing-a-long shouter, one of a number of rock and roll workouts on the record, while “(I See) No Way Out” sounds like a great lost Romantics single. But the musical highlight for me is the stunning “Fill an Empty Heart,” a killer tune arranged to hit all the poprock marks – love the organ (courtesy the Faces’ Ian MacLagan) and oh-so-new wave guitars. The album has many highlights but check out “Perfect World” and the country-ish “I Found You Again.”Fill an Empty HeartI Found You Again
I don’t claim to understand the magic that allows musically creative people to write great songs and make dynamite records. But it’s inspiring to see artists maintain the mojo throughout their careers. Maybe these guys are just getting started? After all, Leonard Cohen kept batting them out of the park creatively right up to his lunch date with the Grim Reaper. You can find out more about The Emperors of Wyoming and The Empty Hearts online. Don’t be afraid to show them some love – that never gets old.