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New pop reviews

New power pop discs to think about

by John M. Borack

Throwback Suburbia’s self-titled disc is a most excellent slice of power pop that at various times recalls pop music stalwarts such as Jellyfish and Rubinoos (among others) and comes off as sounding not unlike a divine cross between Sun Sawed in Half and Rooney. Now that I’m almost done with the obscure comparisons, let me try to explain why this album is simply marvelous: the 13 cuts feature sweet, impassioned lead vocals (courtesy of Jimi Evans, who sounds a little like Kyle Vincent on steroids), glistening harmonies, sticky choruses, impeccably layered and textured production, an instrumental attack that’s alternately hard-edged and lilting…need I say more?

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Okay, you twisted my arm. Here‘s more: “You’ll Never Know” is a heart-tugging, Badfingeresque slow one; “Private Oasis” showcases a bit of the Jellyfish influence (although Throwback Suburbia is not nearly as obsessively ornate); “Perfectly Okay” mixes modern rock with a middle eastern influence and is one of two tracks mixed by the legendary Jack Douglas; “Same Mistake” is a superb power pop song, plain and simple; the jaunty “Head Over Heels” begins by borrowing the opening riff from ELO’s “Mr. Blue Sky” and includes a large dose of TS’s fab harmonies; “Asking Why” begins with quickly strummed guitars and piano flourishes, then quickly moves into a surging, unforgettable chorus. Fabulous stuff, all. Trust me on this one: if you’re a fan of power pop, you need to hear Throwback Suburbia.

Gavin Guss is the former front man of the 1990’s-era Pacific Northwest power poppers Tubetop and his first solo release, Mercury Mine, is a nice little amalgam of classic power pop, Britpop and Emitt Rhodesian influences. The vocals sound a lot like Matthew Sweet (“Lifeboat” is downright eerie in its MS resemblance) and the overall feel is not dissimilar to a Chris von Sneidern record. Picks to click: the lyrically clever “X,” the piano-based “Message From Jeanine” (which finds Guss channeling his inner Emitt), the Beatley “Bud” and the wonderfully addicting title track. Pure now for pop people, this is.

Innocence is Bliss, the sophomore effort from South Carolina's Frank Royster, contains some solid songs in a Merseybeat vein, as well as a few with country-ish leanings and one, "Mr. Wonderful," which deftly combines both styles. The problem with the record is Royster's rather sandpapery vocals, which unfortunately do not suit the material at all. While his gruff voice does fit the piano-based, soulful shouter "Brena You!" like a glove, most of the time his vocal limitations are an issue: witness the painful bridge vocal on the (otherwise) sweet little bopper "Can't You Make Me Smile," which had me lunging for the eject button.

Overall, while I enjoyed much of the songwriting (the chiming "Oh! Mary" in particular would be a real winner in someone else's hands), Innocence is Bliss ultimately fails to satisfy, despite the yeoman efforts of producer/sonic utilityman Jamie Hoover. Hey, come to think of it, maybe next time around Royster should hire Hoover to sing; a well-written track like "My Girl" could really soar with the Spongetone giving it a whirl.