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New Music Review! Bill Lloyd's "Working the Long Game"

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Bill Lloyd’s first two solo records—1987’s Feeling the Elephant and 1994’s Set to Pop—are rightfully seen as classic of the power pop/melodic rock genre. Combining ringing guitars with a keen sense of melody in songs such as “Lisa Anne,” “Nothing Comes Close,” “Trampoline,” “Niagara Falls” and several others, Lloyd created a template that was difficult to top. Several releases for several different labels would follow, with each one being very good or better; still, to this writer, Lloyd hadn’t quite been able to return to the elusive heights he achieved on his first few efforts.

Until now, that is.

Working the Long Game, Lloyd’s latest full-length for Texas-based SpyderPop Records, is not only his finest solo collection in nearly 25 years, it’s a solid contender for album of the year in my book. A dozen tracks, each one carefully crafted and melodically stimulating, and a sterling showcase for what can still be done with a solid base of guitars, bass and drums. Of course, there are some other complementary touches—the strings on the devastatingly beautiful and delicate “Wake Up Call,” Lloyd’s mandolin on the ever-so-slightly middle-eastern sounding Graham Gouldman co-write “What Time Won’t Heal”—but on the whole, these are uncluttered, six-string powered gems that are instantly likeable and retain their substantial charms long after the disc stops spinning.

Several of the songs on Long Game stand up with Lloyd’s best ever: the aforementioned “Wake Up Call” deftly balances musical sweetness and lyrical sadness, with an acoustic guitar figure that recalls Big Star’s “Thirteen,” while the joyously catchy “Go-To-Girl” sounds like it could have topped the charts in 1965. Then there’s “Yesterday,” a wonderfully loud, loose-limbed rocker that features bass by Cheap Trick’s Tom Petersson (who also shares writing credit with Lloyd), followed by the similarly muscular “Interrupted” and “Merch Table,” both of which will deposit themselves directly into your memory bank.

“Interrupted” was co-written with Nashville-based singer/songwriter Scott Sax (formerly of the late, great combo Wanderlust), and extols the frustration of attempting to collaborate on music via the internet. It features just a whiff of a “Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress” vibe in the verses and adds a positively incendiary guitar solo as a bonus. “Merch Table” is driven by a slew of cascading guitars and slam-bangin’ drums (Lloyd is credited with “many guitars and vocals” on this one in the notes) and lyrically serves as something of a statement of purpose for the struggling independent musician. (“You’re asking me, ‘Why do you still do this? I thought by now you would have had your fill’/There’s a thing that happens in the moment when it’s real” and “It’s been a decade since you bought new music/Got rid of all your old CDs/You don’t want to clutter up the house with new songs like these” are both totally relatable couplets.)

On the albums final two tracks, “Miracle Mile” and “Shining,” Lloyd one-man bands it in quite fetching fashion: his controlled-yet-powerful drumming on the former tune is a revelation (who knew?), while on the latter he closes things out in a mellower manner that’s somewhat reminiscent of Paul McCartney circa 1973. Beautiful vocal arrangement on this one, too.

Everything else on Working the Long Game is more than worthy as well, especially the jaunty title track which welds a perky little melody around a guitar riff inspired by the Beatles’ “Getting Better” and adds a cheeky set of lyrics. Oh, and let’s not forget “’Til the Day That I Break Down,” a classic Lloyd pop-rocker penned with frequent collaborator David Surface and another all-by-himself recording that sounds like anything but. It all adds up to a revelatory release by Bill Lloyd, proving yet again that there is still plenty of life in the tried and true guitars/bass/drums formula as long as you have the songs. And boy oh boy, has Bill Lloyd ever got ‘em this time around. (Available on both vinyl and CD at Grade: A