Adventures of a University Finalist

Monday, August 29, 2005

Tell Me If You've Heard This One Before


Various Artists - Power Pop Anthems! (Virgin, 2005)

Squeeze - Pulling Mussels (From the Shell)
The Records - Hearts In Her Eyes
Hal - Play the Hits
Jellyfish - Baby's Coming Back

Funny story. Earlier this month, I was doing my two week research stint and felt that I should find a welcome distraction to alleviate some of the mounting tension growing as a result of reading the nasty words such as "hazard", "dead", "polluted" or "corporate social responsibility". I found this in the form of 6music, the BBC's alternative digital radio station, an old love that has now been spurned in favour of my fellow music bloggers. It was a brief but joyous union that resulted in me entering Gideon Coe's 'Paintbox Jury' competition. Having doen so, I promptly buggered off to have my customary pizza scattered with various unidentifiable meat products and thought no more of it. Fast forward one week and a package from the BBC arrives containing three CDs and the customary BBC pen (a red biro with no lid on it, I shit you not). This resulted in me a-yelping and a-hollering and running around the driveway in my underwear (that's true). THe CD package consisted of the latest Turin Brakes (better than I coul possibly have hoped it to be), the new Public Enemy best-of (needs some time to grow), and Virgin's poorly named compilation package of the week, 'Power Pop Anthems'. The latter of the three is the one that I wish to speak of today and for good reason too. For I wish to ask the question that has plagued man since the early 70s: what is Power Pop?
I will admit that at the beginning I really wanted to hate this compilation. It had cash-in written all over it. Even from the packaging, it was obvious that it was just an excuse to couple together some EMI artists under a vague misnomer masquerading as an all encompassing theme just to make a mint. Well, I have to say that I'm disappointed in that respect because this album is a little too obvious at points, it includes some people who have no right to be crowned with that exclusive title of "Power Pop", it omits some important bands, and has an all too obvious bias toward New Wave. However, it is ultimately an unashameably corking set of tracks.
Power Pop is often termed as a product of the seventies with its first major exponents being Badfinger, the Raspberries and Big Star. It is often termed as a mixture between Beatles melody and the rock of the Who. The main sign of a power pop band is a heavy power chord sound that is shifted down in the mix so as to let the melody breathe. Pure power pop has a preference for embellishments from organs or piano with the chief exponents of such a sound being Ric Ocasek's new wave group, The Cars (featured on the comp with their best known number that isn't a soppy Macarthur Park souffle) and the masters of 90s power pop, Jellyfish. Queen (who sadly kick off the first CD) are NOT proponents of power pop but rather of pomp-rock. Power pop is more often than not both a blessing and a curse. Power pop bands often extinguish themselves within two or three albums due to their inability to work beyond what is essentially a limited formula. The Romantics made one good album, Jellyfish made two, Big Star made two that could possibly be termed popwer pop, and even only The Raspberries could muster four before their leader Eric Carmen descended into MOR hell on the back of Rachmaninoff. There is often an extremely intense flame at the beginning before an incredibly quick ebb into obscurity or dullness. Queen, on the other hand, were scattershot with their operatic flair, dabbling with jazz fusion, disco, the Charleston, and ultra-ironic boogie woogie. The Beach Boys were not power pop. Power Pop did not exist when 'Fun, Fun, Fun' came out - that was it's predecessor, surf pop. The Beach Boys could maybe have been termed power pop in the days of 'Carl and the Passions' but even I'd be loath to say that. Pilot were simply crap and their presence is better left undiscussed. ELO are a more forgivable indiscretion but I would rather simply term them "pop" and leave it at that. Any band that dabbles with rock n' roll pastiches so frequently as they just doesn't fit the tag. The Jam, Any Trouble, Reckless Eric amd Joe Jackson are all New Wave rather than power pop looking rather to either rougher musical textures or a complete disregard for the constant need of a delicate merseybeat chime underscored by a power chord base.
A lot of the songs on here are obvious with Wings ('Jet'), The Knack ('My Sharona'), The Undertones ('Teenage Kicks'), and The Buzzocks ('Ever Fallen in Love?') all key examples of what I dislike to call the "duh!" syndrome of compilation sequencing. What about 'Good Girls Don't', 'Admiral Halsey', 'My Perfect Cousin', and 'Lipstick'? Well, I guess the first answer would be that they don't sell compilations quite as well to the average consumer. Andy Sturmer once said that 'Jet' was the sexiest song ever written.. he also refrained from mentioning that it's one of the best pop songs ever written. These songs, as I've previously mentioned, were chosen in the usual fashion with a flamboyant mixture of the false worshippers, the popular, and the true faith. The true faith here is represented by bands like The Records, The Rubinoos. The Barracudas, The Babys, and Martha and the Muffins (stretching with that last one) who all fill that wonderfully brittle construct of 70s blue eyed boys who never quite got out the starting blocks with their bright orange V shaped telecaster, brillatine hair, vaseline teeth and adoration of the Searchers. By all rights, they should have been joined by Dwight Twilley, the Plimsouls and The Romantics along with 90s exponents such as The Rooks and the incomparable Sloan ('Action Pact' is the best power pop album of the noughties - taut, melodic and spine tingling) but you can't have everything. And everything is all that this compilation tries to give. It does so in such an adorably mediocre fashion, with its idle searching in every nook and cranny of the easily identifiable pop universe, but that's why I find it so charming. For I now posses an album with 'Friday On My Mind', 'Fire Brigade', 'It's Only Natural', 'Echo Beach', 'Going Down to Liverpool', and 'No Matter What' all of which are stone cold classics that I enjoy each time they come on the stereo. Not many albums have such an enviable strike rate.
Before I finish, I guess I should give you guys the lowdown on the tracks that I've uploaded. Hal are the new boys out of Ireland who have been surprisingly ignored by the blogosphere even when they have such a brilliant single in the form of the Edwyn Collins produced 'Play the Hits' with it's cyclical guitar hum, infectious pre chorus, and delightful high register vocals. Sunshine pop for an early summer's evening out on the sun lounger with shades, a fat novel and too much multicoloured zinc on the bridge of your nose. Jellyfish are the 90s offspring of Steely Dan with their preference for a beautifully scented rose that blossoms with colour and fragrance only to reveal sharp lyrical talons disguised as innocuous thorns. The acoustic stroll is interrupted by tinny drum snaps, hand claps, buzzing bass and Roger Manning doing his best impersonation of Garth Hudson on the organ. You dance like a mad man and then start listening to the words before retreating to the corner for a quick sob into your pint of bitter. The only song that I've heard a harmony built around the words "buy a handgun". The Records are power pop at its most wonderfully undistilled with a standard Flamin' Groovies knock off that would have made Cyril Jordan a very proud man. And if you don't know Squeeze by now then I pity you and bid that you listen to what has to be their finest hour with Tillbrook pulling exquisite couplets like rabbits out of a hat whilst the guitars ring the changes never to come.

Buy - Power Pop Anthems!