Omnivore Recordings resurrects a lost mid-90s alt-rock gem from Paul McCartney’s DJ
Recording: Dan Loves Patti
Label: Omnivore Recordings
★★★★ (4/5 stars)
In the mid-1990s, there was a mini-movement in underground rock that earned the unfortunate sobriquet “ork-pop.”
Inspired by the canonization of Brian Wilson and the rise of U.K. act the High Llamas (themselves Wilson acolytes), musicians working in the indie rock milieu found themselves drawn to sweet melodies, highly textural arrangements and instruments like viola, flugelhorn and vibraphone in an attempt to reclaim pop music from both the synthetics of mainstream hits and the dissonance of alt.rock. From the airtight pristinity of Eric Matthews to the looser, more psychedelic aesthetic of the Olivia Tremor Control, songwriters and performers turned (briefly) away from harsher sounds toward music that ecstatically drew from the Left Banke, the Zombies, Pet Sounds and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Pop fans turned off by the top 40 rejoiced. Even it was only a blip on the radar, as only the Flaming Lips really benefited commercially with their shift from eccentric acid weirdness to quirky chamber pop, it was a refreshing breeze through an alternative rock scene that was in danger of being stuck in a rut. Most of the work left behind still holds up today.
Case in point: Dan Loves Patti, the sole album by Chicago’s Yum-Yum. Released on Atlantic subsidiary TAG in 1996, the album was lost in the shuffle of the major label alt-rock signing frenzy, given little promotion or even attention, especially when its imprint shut down. (A critical essay in Harper’s, written by Holmes’ friend Tom Frank, who believed it was all a massive put-on, didn’t help the album’s cause. See the excellent liner notes for the full story.) Though bandleader Chris Holmes (also of Sabalon Glitz and Ashtar Command) eventually landed a plum spot as pre- and post-show DJ for Paul McCartney, he never received his due for this lush compendium of almost textbook chamber pop tunes. Until now, that is, as the reissue specialists at Omnivore have rescued the album from oblivion, giving it a slew of bonus tracks to sweeten the deal.
The tracks on Dan Loves Patti grew out of an affection not only for the lush sounds of Love, the Beach Boys and Nick Drake’s first two LPs, but also for fond memories of 70s AM radio, when hooks and melodies were still as important as rhythm and content. “Apiary,” the second cut on the album, tells the story. Drenched in strings, driven by distorted rhythm guitar and enhanced by harmonies from the whispery Holmes and the cooing Barbara Gretsch, the song’s melody couldn’t get any more instantly appealing. That’s the case with nearly every other song here: the crunchy “Doot-Doot,” the melancholy “I’m Not Telling,” the expansive “Ring,” the widescreen “Sister.” The lyrics don’t chase any kind of profundity – they’re mainly about feeling sad or happy. Yet aren’t just toss-offs, either. But the words seem to support the melodies, rather than the other way round, and that’s appropriate. The tunes take over as soon as plectrum hits guitar and bows draw across strings, creating a glorious euphony that’s irresistible to fans of nectarous pop.
Proffering less intricate arrangements, Holmes doubles down on singable tunesmithery on a generous helping of bonus cuts. With guitars taking the lead over strings, the auteur lets demos “I Took Advantage of the Spring,” “Automatic Blues” and “Holding Out For Love” rise or fall on the merits of the melodies themselves, without a lot of filigree. The same goes for the B-sides – covers of Prince’s “When You Were Mine” and the Ronettes’ “Baby, I Love You” may not be written by Holmes, but they carry the same devotion to getting the musical strains across. Oddly for a guy who loves simple AM pop, Holmes doesn’t quite nail his cover of The Muppet Movie’s “Rainbow Connection” – that midsong modulation, ignored here, is key.
That’s a mere blip on this album’s radar, however. Dan Loves Patti is otherwise full of strong tunes, luscious settings and a diapason like sunshine preserved in aural form. It was a shame when its original release was drowned in record company politics and critical backlash. But at least now, twenty-two years later, it’s being given a second chance at a well-deserved new life.