Tag Archives: bubblegum

Under The Radar – The Third Men

With so many albums out there, we rely on the “sounds like” marketing approach, whether we’re reviewers trying to describe a band’s sound or the band itself trying to attract attention. Tell me you sound like Shannon Hoon singing Styx songs to a marimba beat and I’m moving along faster than a booster rocket. Drop names like Cheap Trick, Big Star and Todd Rundgren and I’m going to stop by and give your disc a listen.

Granted, I know that doesn’t mean you’re necessarily going to have the songwriting chops that Todd has, the mercurial vocals of Robin Zander or the soulful essence of Alex Chilton and company. I get that. But I’m figuring that if these are the sounds that influence you, some of that is going to bleed through into your music. And what you do with that osmosis is what counts.

It was just such a list of influences that led me to The Third Men, a Nebraska band that plays “hook laden songs at high volume” and were raised on raised on “equal parts 70s FM radio and 80s underground psychedelia“. Most bands with multiple vocalists and songwriters is going to have a diverse sound, especially when those members are veterans of other bands. I’m not familiar with Sons Of…, which featured Mike Tulis and Matt Rutledge, but I was a big fan of Patrick White‘s former groups The Dangtrippers and The Bent Scepters. Dana Rouch and Mike Loftus complete the versatile quintet.

The songs on Boost range from crunchy powerpop to garage bubblegum, flooded with ringing guitars and a snappy backbeat with a flood of keyboard sounds that color the songs vividly. But there’s energy here – lots of Elvis Costello-ish Farfisa moments, many dBs and Lets Active sounding songs with clever arrangements. “The Hangover” mixes Big Star chord progressions with drum fills from The Book Of Ringo; “G.A.S.” is reminiscent of the early Beach Boys/Jan and Dean singles. I also heard some Byrds and Jayhawks moments sprinkled in, and even a KISS/REO Speedwagon moment that caught me off guard.

Drawbacks? Occasionally nasal or reedy vocals; none of the singers is particularly strong but the harmonies are solid. Another is the thin production; given the material I imagine this would be a whole different record if it was punched up a bit more. But within the bouncy music are occasionally dark and humorous lyrics, and while there aren’t any instant classics on Boost, most the songs are head-bobbingly appealing.

For me, a pleasant surprise and a band I’ll keep my eye (and ear) on. If any of those musical references above tickle your fancy, give this one a proper spin or two and let it grow on you.

Listen to clips from Boost at CDBaby

The Third Men website

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Blast From The Past: Redd Kross

 

By the time Redd Kross released Show World in 1997, they had already been a successful recording act for almost two decades. I thought that maybe this one would propel them from the minor leagues into the household name category, but once again the masses turned a deaf ear, and thirteen years later I’m still waiting for the next one.  Two years after its release, guitarist Eddie Kurdziel died, and the band put everything on the back burner. 

Hard to believe that it’s been thirty years since their debut EP. Harder to comprehend is that leaders and brothers Jeff McDonald and Steven McDonald are still young pups in their mid-forties; they recorded Red Cross when they were teenagers. Forced to change their name for obvious reasons, they released six albums over the next seventeen years, slowly moving from punk rock and juvenile subject matter to more highly polished material that rivaled the best powerpop songs of their era. 

Many fans preferred the hardcore punk days when subject matter ranged from cereal and comic books to Hollywood celebrities like Linda Blair and Mackenzie Phillips; Neurotica is often mentioned as their best work. I was gobsmacked when “Annie’s Gone” came blasting out of my speakers;  great vocals, big guitars and a hook that could snag a whale… 

Video: “Annie’s Gone” 

They mastered the art of mixing bubblegum pop, glam rock and hard rock into an irresistable mix, which is why I  much prefer the later releases (Third Eye, Phaseshifter and Show World) that focused on those crunchy pop rock nuggets. Show World in particular has three stone-cold classics in the first five tracks – “Pretty Please Me” (a faithful cover of classic by The Quick), “Stoned” and the shoulda-been-a-smash-hit “Mess Around”. Radio blew it once again. 

Video: “Mess Around” (live) 

The band has been making live appearances over the past few years and a limited release of a live CD/DVD called Got Live If You Must (a takeoff on an early Rolling Stones title) was gobbled up by lucky fans. There have been one-off projects by Ze Malibu Kidz and The Steven McDonald Group, and their Bitchin’ Ass podcasts have kept fans in stitches. 

Judging by that video clip, the boys are in top form. Reportedly their new release – recorded with drummer Roy McDonald (no relation) and former guitarist Robert Hecker – is almost ready to rock. I’ve been waiting thirteen years, so I’m ready! 

 

Listen to song clips at Amazon

Visit the Redd Kross website and their MySpace page. 

*** 

Damn your eyes. Too late!

 

Speaking of blasts from the past, bug-eyed British comic Marty Feldman would have been 76 years old today. He left us far too soon; dead of a heart attack at 49. Most people know his work in the Mel Brooks films but were unaware of his small screen work, from his writing and performing on British television to the American era staring with his debut as part of Dean Martin’s show. He combined physical comedy, quick-witted dialogue and absurd situations in a unique mix that people all over the world responded to. 

R.I.P., Marty – thanks for all those smiles

Visit The Marty Feldman Tribute Page.

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Blast From The Past: Velvet Goldmine

In a response to one of the posts about bubblegum music, a reader states that glam is like “bubble gum with pubes”. Vile, yes. Disgusting? Absolutely. But not a bad analogy.

Glam is bubblegum’s older brother/sister, more streetwise, more decadent, more overtly sexual, but at its core it’s still pop music with gigantic hooks. Aural glitter, if you will. These songs don’t hope to catch your attention with a wink of an eye; that would be far too subtle. Glam is zippers and bulges and leering innuendo – wham bam thank you ma’am.

Many films tried to accurately portray the scene; few succeeded. Velvet Goldmine not only had a great storyline – think Eddie and the Cruisers but starring Bowie and Iggy – but a killer soundtrack that still holds up today. I heard the soundtrack prior to seeing the film, and it only accelerated my desire to do so. Faith rewarded in both media.

Todd Haynes co-wrote and directed the film, which featured a stellar cast including Christian Bale, Ewan McGregor and Eddie Izzard, among others. But the music…ahh, the music.

My thoughts from 1998, first printed in TransAction Magazine


I confess up front that I havent seen the movie, although that has not been a deterrent to appreciating soundtrack records – they usually have little to do with the plot anyway. But I know good glam punk when I hear it. Shudder To Think does Bowie incarnate with “Hot One”; Placebo gives Bolan a workout with their version of “20th Century Boy”.

Also included are some great turns by Teenage Fanclub (“Personality Crisis”), Thom Yorke and star Ewan McGregor (a ripping version of “TV Eye” backed by Ron Asheton, Mike Watt and Thurston Moore, among others!). Plus how can you go wrong with Eno, Lou Reed, Roxy Music and Pulp?

And for those who forgot Steve Harley and Cockney Rebel in Mott’s wake, heres a reason to dig out your vinyl. God, the energy, the passion, the feeling!  So tell me again how the pulse of the music world had its balls shrink into raisins over the past few years?

Velvet Goldmine soundtrack

Velvet Goldmine film

Clip: Placebo rocking “20th Century Boy”

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Under The Radar: Supergroupies

supergroupies album cover

If I ever want to explain to someone why I think the music industry crashed like a lawn dart, I’ll play them this album and then turn on the radio. Granted, glam rock is not for everyone, and this might be a little bit too bubblegum for some, but Supergroupies are way better than any of the hair metal bands who tried the same formula. Naturally, this album is completely unknown in the States.

It’s been three years since this puppy blew my mind – I hope they’ve got something new in the pipeline and didn’t take all that apathy to heart. Here’s my original review from 2006:

Let’s cut to the chase – this is the best glam pop record in years. 

From the opening salvo of “Give It all You Got” through the closing “Come One Come All”, Supergroupies is a thirteen-track, forty-minute joy ride. Several tracks are flat out killer, immediately accessible anthems that combine the harmonies of Sweet, the flamboyance of KISS, the strut of Cheap Trick, the camp of Poison and the balls of The Who. No, not Who’s Next era Townsend but, the 60s Who, the power pop Who. Think I’m kidding? Check out the guitar and drums on “Hot In Paris” and tell me you don’t see Pete’s windmill and Moon’s unconventional flailing yet focused playing. Yeahhh…told you so. 

Vocalist Kim Simon has the bubblegum lead vocal down cold and the background harmonies are tight and high-pitched. Guitar solos are short and sweet, while the rhythm section demands dashboard double-time. There are easily six or seven singles here, one of which (“Low Blue Flame”) is as good or better than anything Redd Kross has ever recorded. Enuff Z’nuff would kill for an album this consistent. It’s flash, it’s glittery, it’s cocky, it’s got makeup and it’s hopelessly, undeniably infectious. Hand claps? Yep. Cowbell? Uh-huh. Power ballad? “Say Goodbye”, check. Up-tempo, whip-crack pop, like the innocent exuberance of the Bay City Rollers “Saturday Night” laced with a testosterone chaser. 

So of course the album isn’t available in the US or UK. Nope, these four skinny white guys from Sweden are currently lighting up Japan, whose pop audiences always seem to know something before we do. Maybe that’s why they always get the bonus tracks on their version of the albums. Well, now you know. Go get this record now. You may have to stand in line behind a gazillion teenagers if you don’t hurry. 

Glam, bam, thank you ma'am.

Glam, bam, thank you ma'am.

The Supergroupies website.

Grab this album on Amazon before it disappears forever.

The Supergroupies MySpace site features four songs.

Supergroupies video: studio track and unplugged.

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Tributes

I got a couple of emails from readers of yesterday’s post who were loving the Beatles cover comp and asking about tributes, since I’m on record as an obsessive fan of such efforts. On more than one occasion I’ve made my mixtape entry a covers collection (even pilfering a Replacements track title – I’LL BE YOU – for one of the more recent efforts) and I always love when I get them in return. (I’ll have to dig up that comp and post it here in the near future.)

I’ve found that the best ones are usually from independent projects on small labels where the scope will go outside the artist roster. By licensing tracks from other worthy bands that would appeal to the same audience as the internal ringers, the label is saying “we are putting the project first” rather than “this is a cheesey effort to get even the crappiest band on my roster some attention“. Frankly few of these get airplay anyway, so those weaker efforts just wind up in the band’s garage where they belong.

The major labels often blow it as well; too often their efforts wind up using big name artists that have no clue. Of course, with their overhead mapped against the unlikely hit potential, these are not frequent releases. But like the tiny labels trying to build around one good band with filler, the big boys have proven that they’re equally adept at creating a PLE (painful listening experience).

A list of the greatest tribute albums ever deserves more time and thought than I have to spare right now, but I do want to float out a couple of my favorites as well as clue you in to a little known collection assembled by a fellow blogger. These aren’t necessarily the five best, although my favorite tribute ever is included. 

Winner and still champion

Winner and still champion

SING HOLLIES IN REVERSE (eggBert): A majestic collection of power-pop artists including Bill Lloyd, Jon Brion, The Wondermints, Mitch Easter, Tommy Keene and Material Issue. Compiled by the late Greg Dwinnell, this was an all-hits no-misses effort where even the artwork and liner notes were first rate. Greg’s eggBert label also issued a wonderful Bee Gees tribute called MELODY FAIR that was almost as good.

Kovering the Klassics

Kovering the Klassics

THIS IS WHERE I BELONG (Rykodisc): Steve Forbert, Jonathan Richman, Bill Lloyd (the KING of tribute album appearances), Fastball, Fountains of Wayne, Cracker, Minus 5…a solid list of great commercial bands drawing from one of the Koolest Katalogues around. A little better than GIVE THE PEOPLE WHAT THEY WANT, which was released around the same time, although “Ring The Bells” by The Model Rockets from the latter might be the best cut of all. (If you can find a copy of SHANGRI-LA on Communion Records, that’s also highly recommended! (Note – if you listen to the Amazon clips, realize that the matchup of artist and song is incorrect).

Whipped Gum and Other Delights

Whipped Gum and Other Delights

RIGHT TO CHEWS (Not Lame): For the bubblegum pop listener in all of us, Not Lame’s impeccable release was complied by John Borack (longtime reviewer and author of Shake Some Action) and features some of the best artists in the current power-pop scene.  Great takes on The 1910 Fruitgum Company, The Ohio Express and Tommy Rowe by Michael Carpenter (genius) , Walter Clevenger (ditto), The Lolas and others. Not Lame has released several great tribute albums for artists as diverse as Gene Clark, Jeff Lynne/ELO and The Cars, among others; every one of them has several chestnuts worth roasting.

Bone Up on these great covers

Bone Up on these great covers

While you’re waiting foa any of the above to arrive in the mail, why not enjoy a great tribute mix right now? Angelo from Power Pop Criminals assembled these brilliant cover comps that are available as free downloads. And on that same page, the excellent rarity and out-of-print Bobby Fuller Four tribute OUR FAVORITE TEXAN.

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