Allegory Grey, Do It All Next Week, Genius Killer, Push Puppets, The Boys With The Perpetual Nervousness, The Mommyheads, The Third Wave of ..., Uni Boys
What if we could revive that great era of radio circa 1978 to 1981 when the likes of Squeeze, XTC, Rockpile, Split Enz and a host of other new wave bands made it into regular rotation? Commercial radio was rarely so open to offbeat trends. Those days might be gone but we can try to revive that kind of energy with a turn around our virtual radio dial.
I loved albums one and two from The Boys With The Perpetual Nervousness. Indeed, “I Don’t Mind” from last year’s Songs from Another Life topped my should-be hit singles for 2021. So I’m obviously primed to like anything new. Happily I can confirm that their new album The Third Wave of … is another jangle tour-de-force, one that extends beyond what they’ve done before. Oh sure there’s the usual Bryds-meets-Teenage Fanclub sparkle to the guitars and shiver in the vocal harmonies. Added to this is material with a harder, new wave guitar edge, as if the Cars rhythm section had dropped in on a few recording sessions. Listen for it on tracks like “Look Back,” “In the Right” and “Out of Time” where it melds with TBWTPN’s distinctive song-writing style. I think the most interesting move in this direction is “Old Pictures of Ourselves” which combines creative guitar and keyboard parts in a striking synthesis. Yet by and large this record is full of familiar TBWTPN grin-inducing, feel-good tunes: songs like “As the Day Begins” and “Turning Red” that tweak the jangle and vocal harmonies to go straight for the heart. Some efforts strike a more sombre jangly note, like “The Stars Go Round” and “Open the Box.” My fave track this outing is probably “Isolation,” an exquisite country pop duet with Mary Lou Lord. And don’t miss the lovely, spare acoustic version of the song (on the digital version of the album only) where Lord’s vocal is primary.
Sometimes you start playing a record and you just know it’s going to be terrific. That was my reaction to “There’s No One Like Lynette,” the opening cut on Push Puppets new LP Allegory Grey. The song delivered an electric jolt of New Pornographers-influenced tune-age. When track two “Sometimes the Buds Never Flower” took off in a very different (but pleasing) Finn brothers direction that was it, I was hooked. And things just got better from there. Songwriter Erich Specht cites an array of power pop influences but the Crowded House imprint is strong on this album. Sometimes they slip in subtly, like the deft Neil Finn melodic turn in the chorus of “Obvious” or the Tim Finn vocal sound on “Perfect Picture.” Elsewhere they’re in your face, like “Lightening in a Dress” where things kick off like something right out of Neil Finn melodic central casting. It’s not just the songs, the band has got the Crowded House feel down. It’s the organ on “Center of the Storm” or the sad melodic guitar lines defining “October Surprise.” And yet the band make these influences their own, a testament to the superior song-writing and performance here. Case in point: obvious should-be hit single “The Bane of My Existence.” All the elements come together on this breezy hook-filled delight. As power pop interview site Sweet Sweet Music said recently, this fantastic record is one to treasure.
On Do It All Next Week the Uni Boys tap the source code of 1970s new wave power pop, bands like the Plimsouls, the Records and Bram Tchaikovsky. Throughout the record they nail the guitar sound, the stark rhythm guitar style, accented by streamlined melodic lead guitar lines. The formula is set from the start with the surging “You Worry About Me” which almost comes off like an American version of The Jam. “Downtown” is more Plimsouls with its filled out sound. “On Your Loving Mind” starts off Cars-like with a dose of poppy Ramones coming in later. There’s even a touch of Stones on the otherwise Ramones kinda of tune that is “One More Night.” “Up To You” moves in a more melodically pop direction with some fab trebly guitar elevating the impact of the song. Another guitar special number is “You Are in My Heart” with its up-front guitar pyrotechnics and ominous background aura. But the stand out track here for me is “Caroline Kills.” It’s got a Jonathan Sings! elan but like he’d joined The Replacements. Do It All Next Week demonstrates that musical obsession doesn’t have to lead to recycled nostalgia. Sometimes something old is just new again.
A lot of bands got chewed up in the major label meltdown of the 1990s when it seemed like, overnight, the standard commercial career path for modern artists just ended. Thankfully a few bounced back, like The Mommyheads. After a disastrous dalliance with Geffen in the 1990s they relaunched their career in the new millennium with a series of brilliant albums, forcing reviewers to stock up on superlatives. And the brand new Genius Killer LP is more of the good same. Reviewers often compare the band to XTC and there’s some of that lurking here, perhaps in a pop soul guise on “She’s a Fighter.” But get ready for some surprises. Like the decidedly ELO flavour popping up all over “Impulse Items.” Or the Odds vibe on “Bittersweet.” Another band often invoked with the group on particular selections is Queen, this time most evident on title-track “Genius Killer.” But digging a bit deeper I’d make comparisons of what is going here with more experimental outfits like Tally Hall, Overlord and Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin, particularly on cuts like “Distill Your Love Into That Dying Light” and “Privilege.” There’s even a bit of 1970s pop prog going on tracks like “First Five Seconds.” Should-be hit single “Idealist” is an understated bit of poprock genius, both in songwriting and execution. But I’m also partial to the subtle and alluring, almost Hall and Oates-like charms of “One and the Same.” My recommendation? Get smart with today’s premiere smart person’s band, The Mommyheads. And pick up a copy of Genius Killer today.
Yesterday lives on in the here and now, renewed and reanimated on your radio dial. Visit these artists to get the full record revival experience.
Photo courtesy Tom Magliery.