Tag Archives: Butch Walker

Power Pop Tributes V

Power Pop Criminals have done it again.

Every so often, my friend Angelo and the crew at PPC put in some yeoman work to gather together a collection of artists covering other artists and wrap it up for us with a nice bow. On this, their fifth collection of Tribute or Not Tributes, they’ve assembled forty-nine tracks of cover tunes that range from nice surprises to holy shit moments, and there’s no doubt that this will spin multiple times in your player.

Want some familiar names? Ronnie Spector, Butch Walker, The Rubinoos, Cheap Trick, The Goo Goo Dolls, Joan Jett and The Wildhearts are just some of the bands taking a whack at their peers and influences.

Great bands that never got the cred they deserve? Check out The Beat Angels, Pugwash, Velvet Crush, The Merrymakers, Material Issue and Gigolo Aunts.

Names only your powerpop friends know? Discover and enjoy Marty Rudnick, Jaimie Vernon, Chris Richards, Cloud Eleven and The Slingsby Hornets.

These and many others take on tracks from the classic B’s (Beatles, Beach Boys, Badfinger) as well as Tommy James, David Bowie, The Troggs, Joe Jackson, Marshall Crenshaw, Blondie, The Who…ahhh, just click on the damn link and get started, willya? There’s even a bonus 50th track on the site for those of you with Monk-like neuroses.

Like the man says, it’s just raw rock’n’roll with la la las

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New Album! Bleu

(Well, not brand new. But I do hold these back until after the print magazines have hit the racks.)

In 2003, Bleu’s Redhead album blew me away. I was on that one so hard and so fast, Columbia used my pull-quote on the front cover of the album. It came out early in the year and I predicted it would hold off all contenders, and it did – I voted Redhead as the best album of the year.

Fast-forward through the next dog year, and Bleu is recording a few one-offs, working with other artists, joining an ELO-inspired collective and even forming a pop geek supergroup with Mike Viola and Ducky Carlisle. And now, finally, that carefully Watched Pot.

I think Bleu has a lot in common with Butch Walker – he’s so talented that the tendency is to have him do too many things at once. And if I were that fortunate, to be both talented and in demand, who is to say I wouldn’t say yes more than I should? At least that’s what I surmise is happening, for as good as A Watched Pot is, I feel…well, to follow his metaphor, that it never quite boiled.

So here’s what I wrote for the latest Bucketfull of Brains.

I guess the pun here is that “a watched pot never boils“, and in fact this third album was bottlenecked by label apathy and the artists’ own perfectionist tendencies. Not that Bleu McAuley hadn’t been a busy guy since moving from Boston to the west coast; collaborating with pop savant Mike Viola (and Bleu’s Beantown producer/drummer Ducky Carlisle) in The Major Labels, and releasing a blatantly affectionate ELO nod (L.E.O.’s Alpacas Orgling). But this on-and-off project has taken quite a while to see the light of day. Maybe the formulaic music industry wasn’t cooperating, or maybe (as he sings in the first track) “nobody saved me from myself”. The irony is that while the pot is here, the contents are not exactly boiling.

I don’t think there’s a film using “There’s No Such Thing As Love” as its title theme, nor “Save Me” or “When The Lights Go Out” (the stunning vocal duet with Sandra McCracken). But if I were a screenwriter I wouldn’t hesitate to incorporate them; hell, the arrangements are so huge that they would be tempted to write a screenplay around them. On most of the songs Bleu sounds like he’s going for the brass ring, seeking either the big hit single or (via a cover version by a name artist) the big royalty opportunity.

Carlisle and John Fields have helped sculpt a huge aural platform for his songs, both lyrically and musically complex. And Bleu’s wordplay and sense of humor is firmly in place as is his subtle sinister side. Much like the stalker reveal in Redhead’s beautiful “Watching You Sleep”, his “I Won’t Fuck You Over” seems apologetic…until the very last Hitchcock-ian phrase. And  I suspect the clever Bleu used the amusing tale of opposites attract in “Boy Meets Girl” to take a subtle shot at reviewers trying to pigeonhole his music (“it’s like Jesus Jones and The Rolling Stones  in a game of Twister“).

My first impression was a bit of disappointment that Bleu didn’t rock out a little; some of the more engaging songs on Redhead had a little more energy behind them, like “I Won’t Go Hollywood” and “Could Be Worse”. Aside from “Kiss Me” – which crosses 60’s Motown with 70’s Philly Soul – everything on A Watched Pot is pensive and lush. But when I revisited Redhead I realized it had the same ratio of tempos; it was jus that those two songs jumped out more from the pack. 

Those seeking the power in powerpop might be a little put off by the slower, more dramatic pace and struggle to take it in a single gulp. But there is no denying Bleu’s uncanny ability to create majestic pop songs with huge arrangements, and when they are sung by what might be the best pop voice since Robin Zander, that’s a small nit to pick.

Bleu on MySpace

Video for “There’s No Such Thing as Love“. (Damn…I should have been a photographer.)

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Blast From The Past – Marvelous 3

Ready for a Marvelous Threesome

Ready for a Marvelous Threesome

Everybody knows Butch Walker now – he’s the go-to producer for a legion of hitmakers from Pink and Avril Lavigne to Pete Yorn and The Donnas. But ten years ago, he was cutting his teeth as the leader and frontman of The Marvelous 3, a band that combined the irresistibe elements of The Who and The Jam with a Beatle-esque hook and a clever sense of humor.

Their first record (Hey! Album) was a smash on Planet Bristol. Here’s my review from 1999, first published in Consumable Online. My prediction for the album’s big success fell short, but the guy behind it wound up vindicating me:

consume-icon

Now we’re talking! If you ever need to define the epitome of power pop to someone, all you’re going to need is a copy of Hey! Album and a loud stereo. The three piece Atlanta band is well schooled in the college of Cheap Trick, Rubinoos, The Sweet, and The Cars, as well as lesser known purveyors like The Beat Angels and Shazam. In other words, great harmonies, sharp drumming, a solid bottom, big guitar and hook after hook after hook. Get those mopey shoe-gazers off the stage, because power pop rules again!

“Freak Of The Week” seems to have grabbed the initial headlines with its Cars-like riff, but “You’re So Yesterday” is equally strong, handclaps and doo-doo-doo background vocals that should make listeners run to turn up the volume. “Write It On Your Hand” is a major player, pulsating beat leading to a call-and-response chorus worthy of The Knack, or The Jags, or Jellyfish … damn, there I go again. But it doesn’t matter if it’s the psychedelic “Lemonade”, the bouncy “Mrs. Jackson” or any other track – each of the twelve songs is bursting with energy and personality. Guitarist/songwriter Butch Walker, bassist Jayce Fincher and “Slug” the drummer pack a wallop and nail three part harmonies throughout the record.

Every power pop record comes complete with the big slow-dance anthem, and that’s “Let Me Go” – an arena ballad with sweeping falsetto vocals. I can see the Bic lighters and the swaying crowd already. My favorite is the irresistible “Vampires In Love”, which mixes clever but goofy lyrics with an absolute killer hook that you’ll be singing in your sleep.

Last year pop bands like Fastball and Semisonic got an opening and exploded onto the charts. It stands to reason that some programmer won’t need the Homer Simpson head-slap to realize that there’s an audience for energetic, exciting music. If this record isn’t a bonafide smash, bleeding out of radios four tracks deep, something is very, very wrong.

Fan website

Marvelous 3 wiki

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Under The Radar: The Fags

I pull albums off the shelf on a whim, don’t you? And when the platter you slap upon your player of choice is a favorite from a band who seems to have just…evaporated…well, it’s time to turn the lights on and sound the alarm.

I first came upon The Fags while trolling some “if you like A, you’ll like B” tangents on a popular shopping website. (No names, please – let’s call it Bamazon.) My first thought was “how can a band be so crass in this day and age to name themselves that?  Really, even if they were English chain smokers, they must have realized the implications. But since they hailed from Detroit, I realized they most likely didn’t give a shit.

(The real story of the name is pretty funny – apparently they booked a one off gig under a goof name “Smokin Fags”, but after blowing th rroof off the club, too many people were buzzing about “that Fags band”… )

That first five-song EP just exploded out of the speakers; a swirling mass of power chords and yearning vocals and all that pent up angst and enthusiasm that drives most great powerpop bands. Obvious older references, sure – Cheap Trick, Raspberries, The Sweet, Enuff Z’nuff, The Who and so on, but so what? Rock was alive in their hands. And then, finally, the full length album with the perfect title. But that was 2006…was I really that prescient when I predicted another four year wait?

Unfortunately, it might be worse than that. Read this story in the Metro Times that predated the record’s release; for anyone who knows a struggling band it’s at once fatalistic and familiar. The future of The Fags doesn’t look good.

But three years later, I’m holding out hope. This is one kickass band, and they deserve to be heard. Go listen!

 

What's in a name, anyway?

What's in a name, anyway?

THE FAGS

Light ‘Em Up (Idol)

Is there a better titled album in the racks? Finally putting a stake in the ground (some of these tracks eked out over the last couple of years), The Fags follow up their solid debut EP with big leap forward; a melting pot of power pop and glam with a sprinkling of hair metal for edge. The Detroit trio recalls a laundry list of greats, from The Sweet and Cheap Trick to Redd Kross and (gulp) Def Leppard…at least the bombastic hit single side of Sheffield crew.

John Liccardello’s emotive and sandpaper voice is the perfect foil for the stomping hooks the trio effortlessly weaves into every song, making infectious songs like “Truly” and “Mistake” into anthems. Butch Walker is making a fortune trying to teach lesser bands how to strive for songs like “Rockstar”, a song more muscular than The Raspberries ever cut but right out of their playbook. I don’t know why it takes them four years to make a record, but if I have to wait until 2010 at least I know it will be worth it. Light Em Up!

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