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Posts Tagged ‘power pop’

By Joel Francis

The coronavirus quarantine has given me plenty of time to explore and write about my record collection.

The Records – self-titled (1979) When you name yourself something as basic as “The Records” you are telegraphing your lack of ambition (ditto for the current rock act The Record Company). I mean, one song released as a stand-alone single at the time was called “Rock and Roll Love Letter.” But being obvious doesn’t make The Records any less fun to play. The combination of chiming guitars straight out of the Byrds’ playbook and sweet harmony vocals on “Starry Eyes” practically laid the foundation for Matthew Sweet’s career. “Girls That Don’t Exist” thumps like a Cars track and “Girl” echoes of Cheap Trick. Again, none of these are bad things. Worse acts have gotten by on a lot less and the sum of these reductive parts is nothing short of a lost power-pop gem.

I have to take a moment to call out “Teenarama.” All the infectious melody in the world – and this cut has a lot of it – can’t mask predatory lyrics like “I wanted a change of style/to be with a juvenile” and “I thought that a younger girl/could show me the world.” Gross. I realize that grown men singing about young girls goes back further than Chuck Berry singing about someone at least half his age on “Sweet Little Sixteen” but that doesn’t make it any less despicable. Stop, now.

Ike and Tina Turner – Workin’ Together (1971) Legitimate question: When did everyone find out that Ike Turner was an abuser? Was it the film What’s Love Got to Do With It, Tina Turner’s autobiography or did everyone kind of know before then? I ask because I couldn’t help but dwell on the Turners’ tumultuous relationship during the Ike Turner-penned song “You Can Have It.” In the song, Tina Turner talks about working up the courage to walk away from a man who was no good. Project much, Ike?

Although this is a catalog-entry album, it plays like a greatest hits collection. The iconic versions of “Proud Mary,” “Get Back” and “Ooh Poo Pah Doo” (with a classical piano intro) are all here, as is the DJ classic “Funkier than a Mosquita’s Tweeter.” Throw in the fine title track and a cover of “Let It Be” and this has just about everything you’d want from soul’s dysfunctional couple.

Mudcrutch – 2 (2016) It is fitting that Tom Petty’s final recording is a reunion with his old band from Gainesville, Fla., and not the Heartbreakers. It is also fitting that guitarist Mike Campbell and keyboard player Benmont Tench are the backbone of both bands. Petty’s name was always out front, but Campbell and Tench (along with deceased bass player Howie Epstein) were the heart of the Heartbreakers. Everyone in Mudcrutch get the chance to sing an original song and Petty retools “Trailer,” a lost ‘80s Heartbreakers classic. This is the sound of musical friends enjoying each other’s company with no pretense other than to have a good time. “Beautiful Blue” belongs in every Petty playlist. There are worse things to have on one’s headstone than “I Forgive It All,” another Petty standout.

Tamaryn – Tender New Signs (2012) I had never heard of the New Zealand-born singer Tamaryn when I walked into the old RecordBar location to see the Raveonettes at the Middle of the Map festival. Performing immediately prior to the headliners, Tamaryn’s lush set of dream pop almost stole the night. Tender New Signs is very much in line what I heard that night. Tamaryn’s latest releases have moved in a more pop direction. They’re not bad, but the layered shoegaze approach here and on her second album, The Waves, are what I keep coming back to.

Prince and the Revolution – Parade (1986) I purchased this album on my way home from work the day Prince died. Surprisingly, the record store still had a handful of Prince titles in stock. I had all the others, so Parade was the winner. I can’t remember what I did first after arriving home, take off my jacket or put this on the turntable.

I never saw Under the Cherry Moon, the Prince film this album is supposed to accompany. I can tell you that I adore the hit single “Kiss” and that it may be my least favorite song on the album. There’s a reason why “Mountains” was a concert mainstay, but for even more fun check out the 10-minute version on the 12-inch single. More contemplative songs like “Under the Cherry Moon,” “Do You Lie” and the instrumental “Venus de Milo” weigh heavily in what would be come D’Angelo’s signature sound a decade later. There’s a reason why D’Angelo’s chose to pay tribute to Prince with this album’s closer “Sometimes it Snows in April.” That songs never fails to make the room dusty.

Mission of Burma – Signals, Calls and Marches (1981) Mission of Burma have always been on the artier side of the punk spectrum, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t brutally loud and abrasive. This debut EP cleans up their sound considerably but it will still pin you up against the back wall if you aren’t watching out. The reissue I own adds the group’s debut single “Academy Fight Song,” it’s b-side and a pair of unreleased songs on a second LP. I only wish the record label had either put all the material on one album (there is certainly enough room) or pressed the bonus content on smaller platter. There is a lot of unused wax on this essential yet brief release.

The Conquerors – Wyld Time (2016) This Kansas City band generated a lot of good press when Wyld Time, their debut album came out. I was so enamored with their British Invasion throwback sound that after hearing them at an in-store performance, I immediately scurried over to the racks and bought the album. Sadly, it appears the wyld times are over for the Conquerors. Their social media hasn’t been updated since 2017. This disappointing development shouldn’t stop any revivalists from enjoying the Conquerors only offering.

Joe Strummer – US North (1986)

Joe Strummer – Forbidden City (1993) This pair of 12-inch singles deliver some gems from the Joe Strummer archives. I have no idea why it took more than 30 years for Strummer’s collaboration with his former Clash bandmate Mick Jones to see daylight. “U.S. North” dovetails nicely with the pair’s work on the Big Audio Dynamite album No. 10, Upping St. and would have been a highlight on anything either artist released around that time. “Forbidden City” ended up on a Strummer’s first album with the Mescaleros in 1999. This demo version has a saxophone that gives it the same sound and feel as the Pigs With Wings soundtrack Strummer did in the early ‘90s. The demo is nice enough, but I don’t know it’s good enough to warrant a stand-alone release. I’d have preferred it if they included it on a proper collection, with more unreleased material. I guess I wasn’t disappointed enough not to buy it, though. There’s one born every minute, eh?

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(Above: Peter Frampton takes an early summer voyage through “Black Hole Sun” at Starlight Theater in Kansas City, Mo.)

By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star

Peter Frampton and Cheap Trick have more in common than releasing two of the best-selling and critically acclaimed live albums of all time in the late 1970s. Thursday night at Starlight, the two children of the Beatles professed their love for the Fab Four.

Cheap Trick covered “Magical Mystery Tour” during its opening 80-minute set. Two hours later, Frampton ended his set (and the night) with “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” Both songs fit the performer’s personalities. Paul McCartney’s genius for concise pop songs and cheeky sense of humor have been celebrated and amplified by Cheap Trick since the mid-‘70s. Likewise, George Harrison’s introspection and guitar virtuosity have been among Frampton’s hallmarks since his precocious start in the late ‘60s.

A cloudburst early in Cheap Trick’s daylight set sent many fans scurrying for cover, but the quartet stayed put. The faithful that remained in the open air strummed air guitar under ponchos and bounced beneath umbrellas to “Hot Love” and “Voices.”

cheap-trickThe quartet stretched out on a couple numbers, jamming on a lengthy “Need Your Love” and taking “Magical Mystery Tour” for a couple extra trips around the block well after the recorded fade-out. Eighties power ballad “The Flame” set up a killer home stretch that included “Dream Police” and “Surrender,” two of the band’s best-loved songs, and “I Want You To Want Me” and “Ain’t That A Shame,” the two biggest hits from “At Budokan.”

Likewise, Frampton didn’t skimp on numbers from his blockbuster “Frampton Comes Alive.” In fact, the opening coupling of “Something’s Happening” and “Doobie Wah” mirrored the first two songs on side one of the album.

Although Frampton is a fine songwriter – look no further than “Baby, I Love Your Way” – guitar solos are his meat and potatoes. His opening solo for the ballad “Lines on My Face” was almost smooth jazz. Later, Frampton traded solos with nearly everyone in the band during a 20-minute reading of “Do You Feel Like We Do.” His best solo came on “(I’ll Give You) Money.”

The band dropped out partway through, leaving Frampton along with his thoughts and his fretboard. The quiet, delicate playing gradually built back up, with each band member subtly, gradually rejoining. Before long, Frampton was trading licks with second guitarist Adam Lester, each trying to tastefully top the other. A lesser guitarist would have ended the song sliding across the stage on his knees with a flurry of notes. Frampton just stood and played, building layer on layer with his fingertips.

Beatles covers were the coup de grace, but a few other interesting covers wormed their way into the night. By now, Cheap trick has likely played “Ain’t It A Shame” more than Fats Domino. A surprising instrumental version of Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun” found Frampton delivering the final chorus through his infamous talk box. Finally, if it was strange to hear Cheap Trick do “Magical Mystery Tour” sans piano, it was even more jarring to hear Frampton cover Stevie Wonder’s “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” without horns.

There were plenty of empty seats in the top third of the theater, but four decades after committing their defining concert performances to vinyl, the unlikely pairing of classic rock vets proved they still had plenty to say and many who were anxious to hear it.

Cheap Trick setlist: Hello There; Oh Candy; Big Eyes; Lookout; Hot Love; Voices; I Can’t Take It; Need Your Love; Magical Mystery Tour; She’s Tight; I Know What I Want; The Flame; I Want You To Want Me; Dream Police. Encore: Ain’t That A Shame; Surrender; Auf Wiedersehen; Goodnight.

Peter Frampton setlist: Something’s Happening; Doobie Wah; Show Me the Way; Lines on My Face; Lying; Signed, Sealed, Delivered; (I’ll Give You) Money; Baby, I Love Your Way; Black Hole Sun; Do You Feel Like We Do. Encore: While My Guitar Gently Weeps.

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(Above: Matthew Sweet’s performance is definitely a time capsule.)

By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star

Matthew Sweet is bringing it all back home.

The power-pop singer/songwriter grew up in Lincoln, Neb., but spent 20 years living in Los Angeles.

Last year he returned to his Midwest roots and moved to Omaha.

Around the same time, Sweet released a third volume of covers recorded with former Bangles singer Susanna Hoffs. The project focused on the 1980s and let Sweet play songs from his formative years as a music fan and musician.

Musically, he is returning home too. Sweet, who performs Tuesday at Knuckleheads, has been extensively revisiting his breakthrough album, 1991’s “Girlfriend,” along with its follow-ups, “Altered Beast” and “100% Fun.”

“I guess I have been a bit nostalgic lately,” Sweet said, revealing the idea to revisit “Girlfriend” came out of marking the album’s 20th anniversary.

“The crowds have been so happy to experience the feelings they had back then. It’s not a thing I feel weird about because it feels really natural and healthy.”

Sweet and Hoffs started their collaborative cover albums back in 2006. Each installment focused on a different decade, starting with the 1960s. The series concluded with the ’80s, the decade that saw Hoffs’ greatest commercial success with the Bangles and Sweet’s initial success in the music world.

matthewsweet“I graduated from high school in 1983,” Sweet said. “We covered XTC’s ‘Towers of London’ on our last album. I remember when I bought (the XTC album) ‘Black Sea.’ I definitely got to experience more connections like that on this album than the ’60s and ’70s projects.”

Four years passed between the second and third “Under the Covers” volumes. Sweet said their record label, Shout Factory, grew impatient waiting for the next installment.

“It took a long time for the ’80s volume to come together. We were like a year and a half late turning it in,” Sweet said. “Susanna and I still Skype tracks back and forth occasionally, but I feel the trio of albums will be it for us. We have not planned on doing a ’90s album.”

The 1990s were good to Sweet. After bouncing between labels and releasing a pair of albums in the late ’80s, Sweet found a home at Zoo Entertainment and started a run of critically acclaimed albums that also landed a handful of tracks in the Top 40.

Sweet moved from New York to Los Angeles to capitalize on his success.

“I’ve lived on both coasts and in the South,” Sweet said. “It’s been real comfortable to go back (to Nebraska). I’m rediscovering things I remember liking as a kid, like seasons. I’m a big fan of weather and nature, and it is amazing to experience distinct times of the year and see them change.”

Now back in Omaha, Sweet is no longer affiliated with a label. He plans to record at home, and his fans are helping.

Money for his 12th solo album eclipsed its Kickstarter goal of $32,000. The project’s funding closed Saturday. He’s now writing songs.

“I’m also going to make demos of every song, because I haven’t done it in forever because we’ve just recorded as we went. Those will be available for fans and also will let me pick and choose what I want to use,” Sweet said.

Fussing over demos is almost exactly opposite of the approach Sweet took on his previous solo album, 2011’s “Modern Art.” For that album, Sweet intentionally tried to keep his right brain out of the process, making up melodies and recording where his imagination took them.

“That was almost a stream-of-conscious process,” Sweet said. “I’d hum something into my iPhone, then overdub on that and build a whole song.”

Sweet hopes to have the Kickstarter album out in the spring. Right now there isn’t any new material to debut on tour, but Sweet hopes it won’t be long before he can play new songs.

“It’s been a long time since I’ve played Kansas City,” Sweet said. “Hopefully with me living just up the road now we can make it there more frequently.”

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The Evolution of Devo

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