Tag Archives: The Sweet

New Album! Smash Fashion

Glam punk powerpop alert!

I’ll admit it – I love everything about glam powerpop. The fat guitar chords, the thrashing drums, the foot-stomping beat and the huge hooks are the antithesis of subtle, but there’s a time and place for everything. I love Loudon Wainwright III but I don’t bounce down the street blasting “Your Mother And I” out of the car stereo, windows down, rear-view mirror shaking from the pulse of the woofers. Nope, that’s what glam and powerpop is for.

I missed Smash Fashion’s 2003 release (and have since made up for it) and almost did the same thing with 2010’s Don’t Pet The Sweaty Things. (Thank god for late night “sounds like” tangents on Amazon and CD Baby!) I wasn’t sure what to expect from a group photo that had one guy thrusting a Flying V guitar neck at me while sporting an eyepatch, but at the risk of hearing an album full of Dr. Hook covers I dove in.

Video: “She Goes Down

Like most powerpop bands, you can play spot the influence. For example:

  • Baby Dancer” and “Blonde Raccoon” are so reminiscent of Dwight Twilley I had to check the credits
  • Hard On Love” is as KISS-like as its title
  • Confessions of a Opium Eater” is the bastard child of “Auf Weidersehen
  • Proper Way To Eat A Muffin” is T.Rex incarnate
  • Sad Sweet Sick and Beautiful” has Mick Ronson’s fingerprints all over it 
  • All Systems Go” is like a mashup of Matthew Sweet and “If I Needed Someone
  • Mott The Hoople, The Sweet, Cheap Trick…and so on.

The title track is as close as you’ll get to a glitter ballad. There are also a couple of covers – the muscle pop rendition of Abba’sDoes Your Mother Know” is really good but “Benny And The Jets” was probably better left alone. Still, this impressive collection of glammy chestnuts is well worth getting and playing loud. These guys know exactly what they’re doing, and they sound like they’re having a blast in the process.

Life is short, stop taking it so seriously. Blast this mofo out a window.

Smash Fashion’s website and MySpace page

Listen/buy at CD BABY.

Smash Fashiion - worth the trip.

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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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NEW ALBUM! Tinted Windows

Pure Pop for Then People

Pure Pop for Then People

I’m going to lay my cards on the table right up front, so if you want to be one of the snarky majority you can click away now. Because I’m here to tell you that Tinted Windows – the self-titled album from Bun E. Carlos, Adam Schlesinger, Taylor Hanson and James Iha – is the best pop record anyone has released to date in 2009.

(Waits for snarky people to laugh…or leave…)

Sample this, mofos.

This album rockets right out of the box with “Kind of a Girl” and doesn’t let up, which is no surprise considering Fountain of Wayne‘s Adam Schlesinger wrote the first four tracks (and seven of the eleven songs overall – eight if you count the co-write with Hanson). “Kind of a Girl” is jukebox glory; it has the big hooks, the octave choruses, the machine gun drums and Hanson’s best Robin Zander impression. Like a few songs on the album, it’s reminiscent of Cheap Trick‘s landmark In Color album (look no further than the ‘c’mon c’mon’ within “Messing With My Head”, another single in waiting). Adam’s second best contribution is the rocking “We Got Something”, which hopefully follows “Kind of a Girl” out of the chute as a single. It’s classic 70s powerpop with a more muscular mix.

But the killer single here might be track 3, the power ballad “Dead Serious” – I don’t think I’ve heard a better radio song all year. It is a monster. You give this track to any American Idol contestant, any young pop star being marketed to the melodic pop crowd…hell, any country-pop female from Kelly Clarkson to Shania Twain and they could top the charts with it. It’s that simple. It’s that infectious. It’s that perfect. But the industry isn’t going to let a man band run with this, even if the lead singer is as close to a teenybop idol as the rock world has at the moment.

“Dead Serious” live at SXSW.

James Iha adds a hooky mid-tempo “Back With You” (Bryan Adams would top the charts with this) along with the riff rocker “Cha Cha”(if The Sweet reunites, this is a natural). Hanson’s two efforts are solid pop as well; “Nothing To Me” again sounds like a Big Star track ghostwritten for Zander, and the co-write with Schelsinger (“Take Me Back”) is classic stutter-stop power-pop, complete with those ooh-ooh-ooh choruses that make girls swoon. Bubblegum pop so sticky sweet that you’ll need to wipe your hands after listening…not that there’s anything wrong with that.

But despite all of the above, this album and band/project (whichever it turns out to be) will ultimately fall a bit short. Why? Because there is no market for power-pop. Every one of these tracks would sound just fine blasting from the radio, especially in summer, but the likelihood of that peaked thirty to forty years ago. Powerpop doesn’t have a fan fest. Powerpop doesn’t have a video channel. Powerpop doesn’t go well with skateboards and hoodies.

You could give these songs to Pink and she’d make an album that would sell millions with minimal changes to the arrangements. Shania would have Mutt country-punch the production and she’d revive her career. Britney Spears could even have her people douse these songs in beats, ridiculous echo and synth programming and hire forty dancers…but if she cut these songs people would take her seriously again.

But any of those people – and more – would probably just fuck it up anyway. Instead we have the right men for the job, albeit at the wrong time. It’s too bubblegum for Cheap Trick. It’s too consistently rocking for Hanson. It’s too lyrically adolescant for Fountains of Wayne. And as far as Smashing Pumpkins…well, it doesn’t suck.

But whoever cobbled this foursome together hit the bullseye – a great songwriter, a classic pop drummer, a chunking power chord guitarist and a cherubic vocalist. They sound like they’re having a blast and most importantly they play to their strengths. Iha proved on his solo album that he’s not a front man, but he has chops; likewise Schlesinger knows these songs are more about hooks than message and need to be sung by a younger, more enthusiastic pop star. Carlos, as always, is a rock solid foundation. They released a great album. Hopefully the lads will look in the tinted mirror and tell themselves  “We Got Something”.

All those bad reviews are missing the whole point. They are wrong. I am right.

But stop reading and let your ears decide.

 Live version of “Cha Cha”

Live version of “We Got Something”

Video for “Kind of a Girl”

Video for “Messing With My Head”

NOT Tinted Windows.

Frankenstein project, monster hits.
Frankenstein project, monster hits.

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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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