by John M. Borack
Lots to catch up on, starting with the latest from Australian pop guru Michael Carpenter, "Redemption #39." Carpenter’s released a handful of solo records over the past decade or so, the new one is definitely his crowning achievement thus far. Handling pretty much all the instruments and vocals himself, Carpenter fashions a mature, deeply satisfying record, with echoes of Tom Petty, alt-country lite and pure power pop married to often autobiographical lyrics about turmoil, dissatisfaction and, ultimately, redemption. “Can’t Go Back” is a corker of a tune and possibly the best thing Carpenter’s ever done, “I’m Not Done With You” is a lilting mid-tempo gem and “The King of the Scene” recalls Jellyfish and Queen. It’s all so high quality that Carpenter can be forgiven for the inclusion of a tune called “Workin’ For a Livin’” and having it sound very similar to the Huey Lewis ditty of the same title.
Carpenter also played a major role in The Finkers, a fantastic Aussie power pop combo that gave the world two stone classics of the genre – “This Time It’s Love” and “Adeline Now.” Their entire recorded output has been compiled by their drummer Mickster and released as a two-disc set, "Epilogue," on his Off the Hip label. The 51 tracks alternate between pure pop delights and punk-pop rave ups, with everything sounding unfailingly melodic and shot through with energy. Great choice of covers, too, with The Scruffs, Flamin’ Groovies, Real Kids, Easybeats, Stems and Gene Clark all represented.
Former Cherry Twister guitarist Mike Giblin has helmed Parallax Project for three albums, but the Pennsylvania band’s latest, "I Hate Girls," is by far their best yet. Don Dixon’s excellent production gives the guitars (some played by the Plimsouls’ Eddie Munoz) and keyboards room to breath, while Giblin’s songwriting has reached new heights and his everyman lead vocals have never sounded better. The sweet desperation of “Watching the World Revolve Around You” is worth the price of admission by itself, but the raucous “Coming Around,” the Plimsouls-influenced “All the Same,” the country-inflected “The Day After Tomorrow” and the Move-like guitar riffing on “Waiting to Pull the Trigger” (which leads to an impossible-to-shake chorus) are all quite nice, too. A definite album of the year contender.
The obscure late ‘70s Britpop act Buster is relatively forgotten 30 years after their ever-so-brief heyday, save for a few pop archivists and diehards. The good folks at Airmail Records in Japan — both archivists and diehards — have released three Buster records on CD, with the first, self-titled release from 1977 an essential purchase for fans of light ‘n’ airy power pop. Tunes such as the gorgeous “I’m a Fool,” the peppy, Bay City Rollers-like “We Love Girls” and the charming “Love Rules” are the standouts, with covers of Paul McCartney and Steppenwolf also worth a cursory listen. "Buster 2" is a little more disco-fied and a lot less good, while Buster Live is a curio for hardcore fans only that includes legions of screaming girls (and a rather lackluster “rock medley” that features Busterized versions of “Shake, Rattle and Roll” and “When the Saints Go Marching In,” among others. Ugh).
Nederglam! For those not familiar with the term, it’s the boot-stomping, guitar-crunching brand of shout-along music that burst out of the Netherlands in the early-to-mid ‘70s. There is a boatload of these high-heeled riches to be found on the aptly-titled "Clap Your Hands and Stamp Your Feet," a super groovy, all-out glamfest that any fan of the genre — hell, of early '70s music in general — will want to snap up real quick-like. It’s all extremely obscure stuff – unless names such as Cherrie Vangelder-Smith, Long Tall Ernie and the Shakers or the Heavy Dwarves ring a bell – but the quality of the two dozen tracks is uniformly swell. Me, I’ve fallen in love with Bonnie St. Claire and Unit Gloria’s ridiculously catchy “Clap Your Hands and Stamp Your Feet,” Heart’s storming “Lovemaker” (definitely not the Wilson sisters) and Lemming’s bizarro “Father John,” slightly disturbing religious imagery and all.
Back with their first release in six years is The Shazam, Tennessee’s own kickass rock and roll combo who proudly cites The Move, Cheap Trick and The Who as major influences. The big news surrounding "Meteor" is the fact that it was produced by Mack, who helmed many of Queen’s biggest successes. Funny thing is, his presence doesn’t seem to make a heck of a lot of difference sound-wise, other than the massed chorale backing vocals on the ditzy “Latherman Shaves the World” which absolutely scream Mercury, May, Taylor and Deacon. While "Meteor" has very few tracks that slap you hard across the kisser at first listen, the record is a definite grower. Tracks such as the loopy “Disco at the Fairgrounds,” the overtly poppy “Always Tomorrow” and the silly, hard driving “Time For Pie” showcase Hans Rotenberry’s slightly bent, hard rockin’ vision and provide the foundation for another fine effort.
Speaking of bands that have been out of the spotlight for awhile, Illinois-based Green has released "The Planets," their first effort since 2001. Always adept at mixing pop, punk and soul into an intoxicating brew, leader Jeff Lescher tones things down here, opting for a gentle, wistful feel on most of the tunes. (He also eschews his manic, piercing vocal stylings, which were used to great effect on Green classics such as “Hurt You” and “Gotta Get a Record Out.”) "The Planets" is an easy-to-like record, with tracks such as the peppy “Rockinville Road,” the early ‘70s AM radio fare of “I Just Can’t Remember Your Face” and the breezy white soul “I Wouldn’t Wait Too Long” all shining brightly.
The mercurial David Grahame is back again with an untitled, full-length release, but as is often the case with Grahame, there’s a catch: the 55-minute disc is divided into just two tracks, so there’s no way to listen to any of the songs separately. This wouldn’t be such a bad thing if these songs were as high quality as Grahame’s previous output, but too much of this is dross, pure and simple; there’s a tune sung by an anonymous young female (Grahame’s daughter?), pointless covers of Emitt Rhodes and “Yesterday,” and a few tunes where Grahame puts on an affected, goofy voice for no good reason. One gets the feeling that Grahame is capriciously jerking the listener around and the overall effect is so annoying that even the quality tunes – where he uses his melodic gifts to fashion McCartneyesque pop goodness – get lost. Shame.
Sweden’s Jerker Emanuelson has been collecting and compiling rare U.S. power pop singles and album tracks from the ‘70s and ‘80s for quite some time, on his Home Runs comps and now on "Souvenirs: Little Gems of Pop." The 21 tracks alternate between jangly jewels from acts relatively well known within power pop circles (Three Hour Tour, Flying Color, the pre-Velvet Crush combo Choo Choo Train) to hopelessly obscure artists lost in the mists of time (64 Funnycars, Chaz & the Motorbikes, Beatosonics). Amazingly, there is nothing here that’s less than great, as Souvenirs is brimming with youthful swagger, teen pop angst and melodies to die for. Essential listening.
Beginning your record with a perfectly constructed song that screams “classic!” can be both a blessing and a curse. Luke Jackson’s "… And Then Some" kicks off with the amazing “Come Tomorrow,” a sunny popsong wrapped in Jackson’s plaintive vocals, a delicious melody, sweet backing vocals and a surging rhythm. Sheer bliss it, is. The rest of "… And Then Some" isn’t up to that ridiculously high standard, but how could it be, really? Still, it’s a good distillation of both Britpop and Swedish pop influences (Jackson’s backing band here includes members of Swedepop legends Brainpool and Beagle) with a nice mixture of beautifully orchestrated ballads and uptempo numbers.
Quick takes: Solin’s "Energy Fair" is a solid, 19-track disc of heartfelt, well-played and well-produced pop that sounds not unlike a distant aural cousin to Chris von Sneidern and features instrumental assistance from Jon Brion on a few cuts. The four disc Big Star set "Keep An Eye on the Sky" is beyond essential, what with the copious amount of rare, live and previously unreleased tracks, but the coup de grace is the inclusion of the acoustic Big Star Third demos – they’re simply astonishing in their beauty and clarity. I was sucked into purchasing the Boolevards’ "Real Pop" by reading some positive reviews and I must admit that I was a wee bit excited by the fact that the back cover promised “two part harmony,” “teenage angst,” “Rickenbackers” and “hooks & melodies.” Sad to say that the harmonies are clichéd, the teenage angst is contrived (usually is when it doesn’t come from teenagers), the Rickenbackers are sabotaged by the dinky production and the hooks and melodies are one-dimensional and boring as all get out. Beware …