By John M. Borack
Omnivore Recordings (ovcd-277)
Omnivore Recordings (ovcd-292)
The story of the Posies could well be titled “A Tale of Two Bands.” Beginning life as a smooth, Beatles/Hollies-influenced combo that took a few moody musical detours, the Posies—led by the vocal and songwriting skills of Ken Stringfellow and Jon Auer—would morph over the years into a harder-edged, angrier, somewhat disillusioned-sounding aggregation. Both sides of the musical coin are on display on the deluxe, two-disc reissues of the band’s first two major label releases, 1990’s Dear 23 and 1993’s Frosting on the Beater. Both albums have been remastered from the original analog tapes and are also available on two-LP vinyl editions (mastered at 45 RPM), sans the bonus tracks that appear on the CD versions. According to the band, “We made the decision to stick to just the original albums for the vinyl release and give [them] room to breathe across two glorious slabs of wax.”
On Dear 23, the bloom was still on the rose, so to speak, as the Auer/Stringfellow team harmonized like Hollies—even though they claimed in interviews at the time they had never really listened to them—and wrote lovely, intricately sophisticated tunes (about decidedly non-teenage themes such as marriage, relationships, and abuse) that certainly belied their young ages. The catchy, lyrically pointed “Golden Blunders” (which would be covered by none other than Ringo Starr and is, somewhat surprisingly, Auer’s least favorite track on the record), the beautifully lilting “Suddenly Mary” and the frantic “My Big Mouth” remain mini pop masterpieces nearly 30 years on, while the harder-edged “Help Yourself,” the folky “Everyone Moves Away” and the epic, eight-and-a-half-minute “Flood of Sunshine” are other high water marks.
Smartly produced by John Leckie (XTC, Stone Roses), Dear 23 remains the “go to” album for most Posies fans, and one that came on like an aural breath of fresh air back in 1990. A more-than-generous 27 bonus tracks are spread across the reissue’s two discs, with 15 being previously unreleased. These include covers of a few of the band’s “spirit animals” (the Hollies, Big Star, and Chris Bell), as well as full band demos of the poppy “What Am I Supposed to Do?” (co-written by Auer and drummer Mike Musburger), “Saying Sorry to Myself,” and “Keep Me Guessing.”
Frosting on the Beater upped the guitar power considerably while still retaining the Posies’ gift for crafting a hook: the first three tracks (“Dream All Day,” “Solar Sister,” and the biting “Flavor of the Month”) are as melodically stimulating as anything on Dear 23, but producer Don Fleming assisted the band in successfully throwing off the yoke of power pop on dirtier-sounding numbers such as the singularly downcast “Coming Right Along” and the—gasp!—grungy “Burn & Shine” and “How She Lied By Living.” As Wilco’s Pat Sansone sagely comments in the disc’s notes, the bulk of the album neatly fuses the pristine pop melodies of the previous record with the in-your-face sound of harder-edged acts such as Sonic Youth and Husker Du.
A whopping 30 bonus tracks are appended on Frosting, with half of them seeing the light of day for the first time. Both reissues feature extensive liner notes (including track-by-track commentary by Stringfellow and Auer), and they remain the Posies’ finest hours.