David Bash dishes on some of the best new pop releases in recent weeks
The return of my International Pop Overthrow festival has kept me busier than I thought.
It has curtailed my writing availability more than I thought it would…but here’s a new column which will hopefully be both enjoyable and informative. 😊
Artist: The Smithereens
Album: The Lost Album
Label: Sunset Blvd. Records
★★★1/2 (3.5/5 stars)
It’s difficult to rank an album like this, as it was recorded in 1993 but not released until now. Does one rank it against albums from 1993, other albums by The Smithereens, or simply as its own entity? I chose to do the latter, as if this record had been done by a previously unknown band, I would certainly see it as a fine pop album, worthy of purchase. It’s also a solid Smithereens album, not as good as their first three but better than some of the later ones. Some tracks, like “Dear Abby” and “Pretty Little Lies” do capture the magic of their best work, and while the rest of the album doesn’t hit that high, it is familiar Smithereens, and that’s a helluva lot better than most bands will ever achieve.
Artist: The Airport 77s
Album: We Realize You Have A Choice
Label: JEM Records
★★★★ (4/5 stars)
The term “power pop” is bandied about like a badminton bird, even when describing music that doesn’t have a helluva lot of power, but it’s certainly apropos when talking about the new album by The Airport 77s, We Realize You Have A Choice, as virtually every song spews energy, hooks, harmonies and strong melodies! The trio from Silver Spring, Maryland will remind listeners of the classic sounds of The Cars on tracks like “One Good Thing About Summer”, “Birthday Girl” and “Bad Together”, and bring out a glammy side on “The Illustrated Book Of Cupid”. A fun album, and even more fun is their live show, at which they don pilots uniforms and blow the roof off the place! The album was mixed by the ubiquitous Kurt Reil!
Artist: Phil Thornalley
Album: Now That I Have Your Attention
★★★★ (4/5 stars)
Thornalley is not a household name, but if you look at his resume, it’s quite impressive! He produced The Cure’s Pornography album, mixed albums by several notable names, and co-wrote #1 UK hits for Pixie Lott! Recently he released a couple of fine albums under the nom de plume, Astral Drive, and now he’s back with an excellent album under his own name, Now That I Have Your Attention, which will be a wet dream for fans of Jeff Lynne and Tom Petty (or Travelling Wilbury’s, for that matter)! Songs range from the full on ‘80s ELO styled “Heaven In A Hash Pipe” to the rootsy, Petty-esque “Big Plans” to the very Wilbury-esque “To Die For”. A fun listen throughout!
Artist: The 1957 Tail-Fin Fiasco
Album: Don’t Go Anywhere
Label: Kool Kat Musik
★★★★ (4/5 stars)
Named for the style of car body that hit with a splash in 1957 and went into a tailspin (pun intended) by 1960, The 1957 Tail-Fin Fiasco is the brainchild of two gents from Essex, UK, David Myers and Malcolm Moore, who write the lyrics and music, respectively. Don’t Go Anywhere really captures the magic of 1970s album rock, as its jazzy overtones will remind the listener of Steely Dan, and its cheeky wordplay calls to mind the band City Boy. Fans of these bands in particular and lovers of sparky pop melodies will really dig this album.
Artist: The Summer Holiday
★★★★1/2 (4.5/5 stars)
The nom de plume of New Yorker Michael Collins, who, along with Acqua, has actually released two other equally good albums in 2022 (!), Come Out, Come Out and B-Side Stories Volume One, but as Acqua has been gaining the most momentum on streaming services, it shall be reviewed here. Collins has a tremendous gift for writing ultra-melodic, neatly arranged catchy tunes, and Acqua is chock full of ‘em, like “Bad Luck”, “Mine, Mine”, “Summertime In New York City”, and…well, all of them! Collins’ voice is like a softer Matthew Sweet, and the album is a very easy listen, as opposed to easy listening. Should end up on the Best of 2022 lists of those lucky enough to hear it!
Artist: Librarians With Hickeys
Album: Handclaps & Tambourines
Label: Big Stir Records
★★★★1/2 (4.5/5 stars)
Lead vocalist of this Akron, Ohio outfit, Ray Carmen, has been known to pop fans since the early ‘90s, as his cassette-only releases were reviewed in such landmark magazines as Yellow Pills. On their second album, Librarians With Hickeys deftly carry on that Carmen tradition of delicious melodies and tantalizing chord changes, awash in ‘80s college radio production values. Carmen’s smooth high tenor vocals will please fans of bands like Shoes, and tracks like “I Better Get Home”, the ominous “Fairground” and “Can’t Wait ‘Till Summer” are particular standouts, but there’s a lot to recommend about Handclaps & Tambourines. Pick one up, like, immediately!
Artist: The Cowsills
Album: Rhythm of the World
Label: Omnivore Recordings
★★★★★ (5/5 stars)
As Cowsills fans well know, it’s been a long time since the band’s last album, the absolutely stellar Galore, but (the unreleased Cocaine Drain notwithstanding) the wait is over, as Rhythm of the World is here! What’s absolutely remarkable is, after all these years, the band has still got it, as the album is replete with the band’s trademark dizzying harmonies and tantalizing melodies, and although they’re down to a trio now, the production is as full bodied as ever. The album announces “hey, we’re back!” in grand fashion with its opening track, “Ya Gotta Get Up!”, and doesn’t lose any steam from there! Other exemplars include “Lend A Hand”, “Nuclear Winter”, “Largo Nights”, and the poignant, tear jerking “Katrina”, written from the point of view of Cowsills brother Barry, who lost his life in that hurricane. A triumphant return by a Hall of Fame worthy band!