Power Pop Profiles
BIG STAR, #1 Record/ Radio City. All right, before you get excited and think that you got me on a technicality, I KNOW that the above is actually 2 records. I was a late bloomer to Big Star and these two albums, released on vinyl as one in 1978 and then again on cd in 1992, are definitive Big Star and should have been released as a double anyway. So there. Big Star, the Mack Daddies of all things power pop. Start here, they’ve never been bettered.
Allmusic states: “A two-fer combining Big Star’s first and second albums, #1 Record/Radio City remains a definitive document of early-’70s American power pop and a virtual blueprint for much of the finest alternative rock that came after it.”
MATTHEW SWEET, Girlfriend. It was a toss up between this and the magnificently sticky sweet 100% Fun, and this one won out due to the inclusion of the title track, Divine Intervention and Evangeline. The fact that Television’s Richard Lloyd contributes fantastically abstract guitar licks as a counterpart to Sweet’s melodies is an added bonus.
Allmusic states: “Matthew Sweet’s third album is a remarkable artistic breakthrough. Grounded in the guitar pop of the Beatles, Big Star, Byrds, R.E.M., and Neil Young, Girlfriend melds all of Sweet’s influences into one majestic, wrenching sound that encompasses both the gentle country-rock of “Winona” and the winding guitars of the title track and “Divine Intervention.” Sweet’s music might have recognizable roots, but Girlfriend never sounds derivative; thanks to his exceptional songwriting, the album is a fresh, original interpretation of a classic sound.”
JELLYFISH, Spilt Milk. Although Bellybutton was by definition more “power pop” than Spilt Milk, this one contained better songs. More of a studio creation than it’s predecessor, it’s tracks were more sweeping in their scope, owing as much to Queen and ELO as the debut did to Big Star.
Allmusic states: “Dreamy vocal harmonies, circus-like swirling organ passages, and crunchy guitars are layered in a manner that evokes the best of the Beatles and the Beach Boys.
Spilt Milk is a flawless pop gem from start right through the unbridled optimism of the closing “Brighter Day.”
SLOAN, Never Hear The End Of It. Geez, I could’ve picked anything from these guys and been right on the money. How does a band release album after album (10 since 1993!) of pure pop bliss and not become boring? It’s easy if you’ve got 4 excellent songwriters with 4 distinct styles who possess a strong competitive spirit to “one up” the others. Never Hear The End Of It is so varied that it begs comparison to the Beatles White Album.
Allmusic states: “…it’s also a record to get lost in, since it is dense with alluring details that create its own distinct atmosphere. Coming from a band that seemed to be settled comfortably within its own sound, this kind of album is indeed a surprise, but this layered, kaleidoscopic album would not have been possible without good straight-ahead records like Action Pact: on those albums, they mastered their popcraft, and here they apply what they’ve learned on an inventive, excellent record that’s their much-needed next great step forward.”
FOUNTAINS OF WAYNE, Self Titled. Just pure pop that manages to sound fresh and retro at the same time. Like Sloan they just seem to keep getting better, or at least maintain their consistant excellence.
Allmusic states: “The only non-modern aspect of it is the fact that the songwriting is so straightforward and wonderful; nearly every song is a pop gem. The result is an album that’s almost innovative, when you really think about it — very few albums released in the ’90s have been this pleasant, charming, and all-around likeable.”
CHEAP TRICK, Heaven Tonight. Most prefer At Budokan, but this remains my personal favorite. Containing the original studio version of Surrender, this was Cheap Trick at their purest and fuzziest.
Allmusic states: “Heaven Tonight is the culmination of the group’s dizzying early career, summing up the strengths of their first two albums, their live show, and their talent for inverting pop conventions. They were never quite as consistently thrilling on record ever again.”
TEENAGE FANCLUB, Bandwagonesque. Every song a winner on this one, and just as influential and important as Nirvana’s Nevermind for bringing guitars back to the forefront. Containing some real muscle with Star Sign and The Concept, as well as some lovely “power” ballads with December and Metal Baby, Bandwagonesque is a perfect power pop album that really stands the test of time.
Allmusic states: “The gold standard of the early-’90s power pop revival, in its own way Bandwagoneque was as much a benchmark as contemporary records like Nevermind and Loveless; though not the generational rallying cry of the former nor the revolutionary sonic breakthrough of the latter, Teenage Fanclub’s sophomore album nevertheless heralded the return of melody and craft, coupled with energy and spirit — hallmarks of much of the greatest rock & roll of the past, and virtues as rare as hen’s teeth in the years immediately prior to the disc’s release.”
ORSON, Bright Idea. With tons of soul, great songs and killer hooks that stay with you for days, Orson are the current torchbearers of power pop and they’re doing a damn fine job. I just wish they’d release their 2007 album domestically…
Allmusic states: nothing.
Other bands that didn‘t make the cut, for one reason or another: BUZZCOCKS, FLAMIN GROOVIES, RAMONES, SQUEEZE, THE RASPBERRIES, THE KNACK, THE RECORDS, THE POSIES.