by John M. Borack
Here are a few reviews that I came across while cleaning behind the couch this morning at 4:00am. They’re all 2010 releases, but some folks may not have had the opportunity to check ’em out yet, so without further ado…
The Rubinoos have been doling out supersweet power pop platters since the 1970s, to critical acclaim in the pop community not only in the US and UK, but also in such far-flung locales as Japan and Spain, where they have a rabid following. Automatic Toaster, the band’s first release of new material in more than five years (not counting lasy year’s recent children’s album, Biff-Boff-Boing), has been released to coincide with the band’s Spanish tour and finds the Rubes in still in peak form.
The ingredients that have made the Rubinoos special ever since their top 50 cover of Tommy James’ “I Think We’re Alone Now” in 1977 are still in place: Jon Rubin’s honeyed lead vocals and Tommy Dunbar’s unfailingly catchy (and often humorous) songs and seriously underrated guitar heroics, alongside longtime bassist Al Chan’s melodic bass runs and smooth vocals. The wild card on Automatic Toaster is the presence of Los Angeles-area pop music savant Robbie Rist as producer and deputy drummer. Rist brings his patented unbridled energy to the proceedings behind the kit (check the crash-boom-bangs on “Two Guitars, Bass and Drums” and the punky kick of “Mak Schau” for some evidence) and as a longtime fan of the band, also serves as a sympathetic producer.
Automatic Toaster alternates between the sort of sweet, jangly numbers that have endeared the Rubinoos to many for so long (the slide guitar-juiced longing of “Same Old Heartache” and a simply perfect cover of Johnny Johnson & the Bandwagon’s early ’70s bubblegum soul ditty, “Blame it on the Pony Express”) and other tunes that have more of a ’60s garage feel, such a speedy cover of Los Bravos’ “Black is Black” and the early Kinks-like “Can’t Have Her Back.” In between there are such power pop classics-in-waiting as “Must Be a Word,” “I Pity the Fool” and the downright goofy “Earth #1,” a ridiculously catchy/silly treatise on why our planet is tops. (“Uranus – don’t go there! Pluto – you call that a planet?”) A few tracks that are mildly entertaining novelty trifles are all that keeps Automatic Toaster from attaining five-star status. (Available at www.koolkatmusik.com or www.popplusone.com)
The Poppees were one of the first bands signed to the fledgling Bomp Records label by the semi-legendary impresario/journalist Greg Shaw back in the mid-’70s, in the process becoming one of the first acts on the indie power pop scene . The New York City-based combo released two first-rate, Merseybeat-influenced singles in 1975 on Bomp (“If She Cries” b/w “Love of the Loved” and “Jealousy” b/w “She’s Got It”), but the ever-popular “creative differences” saw the band splinter the following year, prior to having the opportunity to release an LP. Nearly 35 years after the Poppees’ demise, Pop Goes the Anthology collects their four single tracks and adds 14 previously unreleased demos and live cuts (all in good or better fidelity), showcasing a raw but talented young band with some catchy songs and unbridled energy.
The centerpieces of the collection are the two singles, with “If She Cries” and “Jealousy” both approximating the sound and spirit of the early Beatles without sounding overly slavish. The b-sides are also worth of special mention: “She’s Got It” is the Poppees’ “Long Tall Sally,” a Little Richard cover dolled up in rockin’ British Invasion garb, while “Love of the Loved” is a sweet Lennon/McCartney tune given to Cilla Black but never recorded by the Beatles. (Years later, scores of bands would cover “songs the Beatles gave away,” but let it be known that The Poppees were among the first.)
Among the unreleased tunes are three tracks recorded live at CBGB’s in June 1976, including the tough-yet-peppy “I’ll Be Loving You” (a not-so-distant cousin to “All My Loving”), the driving “She’s So Bad” (which borrows the classic bass line from another Little Richard tune, “Lucille”) and a rough hewn take of “I Need Your Love,” which the Ramones would cover on their 1983 album Subterranean Jungle. Earlier and slightly tentative live performances are also captured, with originals such as “Anything Wrong” and “Bad to You Good to Me” showing promise, and sitting nicely alongside a cover of the Dusty Springfield chestnut “Stay Awhile.”
While the band’s ballads – a cover of the ’50s doo-wop classic “Since I Fell For You” and “Sad Sad Love” – sound like rewrites of “Yes it Is” and “This Boy” (not necessarily a bad thing), tracks such as the aforementioned “I’ll Be Loving You” and the two single a-sides prove that the Poppees could have been a pop force to be reckoned with had they stayed together longer. Informative historical liner notes from Poppees guitarist Arthur Alexander complete the package.
The Britannicas is an indie power pop supergroup of sorts, comprised of Joe Algeri (Jack & The Beanstalk), Magnus Karlsson (Happydeadmen), and Herb Eimerman (formerly half of the Nerk Twins with Shoes’ Jeff Murphy). Seeing as the trio reside in Australia, Sweden and the U.S., respectively, they took advantage of technology and swapped tracks over the internet to record their self-titled debut CD.
All three Britannicas switch off on lead vocals on the disc’s dozen pleasant tracks, which lean heavily on polite guitar jangle rather than a rough-and-tumble power pop sound. The instrumental sweetness is used to good effect on Algeri and Eimerman’s early Big Star-like ballad “Blue Sky Grey” and Karlsson’s lovely, haunting “Love Trap,” which recalls the best of the ’70s singer/songwriter era. “Stars,” another Algeri/Eimerman co-write, is a lovely little Byrdsy pop tune with Rickenbackers popping up throughout, while “Friday Night Alright (Come Out and Play)” has a distinct Richie Valens/Eddie Cochran vibe.
While some of the tunes fall a bit flat due to harmonies that fail to soar and a drum sound that’s disturbingly boxy, The Britannicas is still a nice little slice of jangle pop that purists will enjoy. (Available at www.koolkatmusik.com)