David Bash dishes on some of the best new pop releases to spend your Xmas money on
Here I am again, with five more essential releases, beginning with a material reissue which was beyond necessary…
International Pop Overthrow
(Back Groove/UMG; LP)
★★★★★ (5/5 stars)
This 30th Anniversary LP reissue was a long time coming, as International Pop Overthrow was originally released just as LPs were being phased out, and while the CD issue was plentiful, the LP was only released in the U.S. and The Netherlands (!), in very limited quantities. This is an album that was meant to be heard on vinyl; if you’re a fan of those analogy questions you once dreaded on the SAT, try this one: Ramones is to punk-pop as International Pop Overthrow is to power pop, as both are among the rawest, most urgent examples of their respective genres. International Pop Overthrow is replete with short, in-your-face examples of what power pop is all about: songs with girls names (the MTV hit “Valerie Loves Me”, “Diane”, “Renee Remains The Same”), gut-wrenching longing (“This Letter”); lost love (“This Far Before”), and, with the title song, the ultimate celebration of the joy music brings us! You can’t look yourself in the mirror and call yourself a power pop fan if you don’t own this album, and this reissue is the best way to own it, and though lead singer/songwriter Jim Ellison has been gone for many years, he will continue to live in the hearts and minds of anyone who has heard Material Issue.
A Day In The Life
★★★★1/2 (4.5/5 stars)
The Parlophonics are a tri-geographical outfit featuring a German, Robert Horvath; a Londoner, Hugh MacDonald; and the “Zelig of Pop” from Southern California, Fernando Perdomo. One might think by the band name and the album title that we’re talking about a Beatles tribute album, but A Day In The Life contains 10 original tunes which, admittedly in some measure, owe some deference to the Fab Four, but mostly it’s a loving paean to cool pop music of the ‘70s. The title track certainly contains some cheeky lifts from the song it’s named after, but “Staying At The Sun” might remind one of the poppier moments of Barclay James Harvest, “Feel The Light” of Climax Blues Band’s forgotten classic, “I Love You”, and “It’s Alright” is a bit reminiscent of Badfinger’s “Name Of The Game”. The whole album is filled with very pleasant, easy-to-listen-to (as opposed to “easy listening”) pop gems, and should definitely be part of your collection asap!
THE GRIP WEEDS
(JEM; CD and LP)
★★★★1/2 (4.5/5 stars)
Covers albums are starting to become de rigueur with your groovier rock bands, and it’s great to get one from psychedelic power pop icons The Grip Weeds! The title has two meanings, as it’s songs the band “digs”, but also it digs deep into tunes which influenced them in their early (pre-salad days (fans will get the pun), several of which they performed live. Most of the tracks on Dig are right in their wheelhouse, like “Shape Of Things To Come” (originally performed by Max Frost & The Troopers), “Journey To The Center Of The Mind” (The Amboy Dukes”, “Making Time” (The Creation) and “I See The Rain” (a should-have-been-huge classic by The Marmalade), but The ‘Weeds also step a bit out of their comfort zone with fine takes on the garage-y “Lie, Beg, Borrow and Steal” (Mouse and The Traps) and the drone-y “All Tomorrow’s Parties” (The Velvet Underground), which they do equally well. All in all, Dig is a veritable Nuggets album for the previously uninitiated!
But wait, there’s more! The CD comes in one-disc, two-disc and three-disc versions!! (the LP is of the one-disc version, and the three-disc can only be purchased from the Grip Weeds website, the third disc containing mostly alternate versions and early live performances). Disc two brings forth more stellar covers of tunes like “The Little Black Egg” (The Nightcrawlers), “Porpoise Song” (The Monkees), and “Twilight Time” (The Moody Blues), among others. Honestly, while the single-disc version is just fine, go for the double-disc; you’ll be twice as happy for less than twice the shekels!
(Big Stir; CD and LP)
★★★★1/2 (4.5/5 stars)
Never was a title of an album more apropos, as Earworms boasts 10 songs which will get stuck in your head long after you’ve stopped the player! Frater, a gent from Croydon, UK, is about as prolific as a bee pollinating flowers, and his songs just seem to roll off of him with the greatest of ease, featuring his engaging tenor, cool chord changes, and well-placed harmonies. It’s doubtless that, in an alternate universe where the radio was actually playing good, melodic music, that tunes like “It’s All Rumours”, “Star-Crossed”, and the glorious “Not Born Again” would be top tenners, but anything on the album would have certainly charted somewhere. As a bonus, the first 50 people who purchase the LP version of the album will receive the Rebuttles CD, Frater’s imagining of songs The Rutles would have recorded after they’d gone solo; told you he was prolific…and cheeky!!
YORICK VAN NORDEN
Playing By Ear
(Excelsior; CD and LP)
★★★★★ (5/5 stars)
I first became familiar with this young man from Haarlem, The Netherlands, 10 years ago, when his band The Hype played my International Pop Overthrow Music Festival in Liverpool, at The Cavern Club. That band specialized in modern power pop, but since then van Norden has run with a solo career and, with each successive album he shows tremendous growth, and further reaches into the nether world of pop. His third album, Playing By Ear, is a mature effort, in a very good way, and many of the songs may remind the listener of bands like Keane, also in a very good way. Slower numbers like “Empty Words”, “Part Of Me”, and the majestic “For A Moment” will bore into your head and leave an indelible imprint; van Norden also channels his inner McCartney with “The Loving Kind”, the bouncy “Love Gone Wrong” would be a hit if the universe aligned correctly, and “Maybe Tomorrow” is one of the best songs Brian Wilson never wrote. This is one gem of an album!