Quick, what's the most abused critical cliché of all time? Barring hoary usage like "throbbing surf bass line" and "jangly guitars" plus up-and-comers "Brian Wilson-like" and "Flaming Lips-ian," there's no question the term "Beatlesque" should by all rights be retired and only allowed out of the word processor after a stiff fee is tendered. But rock critics, like old dogs, rarely pick up new tricks. And in the presence of a record so gosh-darn B****esque as this 'un, well, you listen to it and then try to write something meaningful without invoking John, Paul, Stig and Barry. (Mail your review to New Times; best entry gets a freshly burned CD-R of the original, pre-Phil Spector Let It Be mix.)
SWAG, in case you hadn't heard the well-hyped scuttlebutt going 'round for the last year, is the hippest rock supergroup since Hillman, Stills, Taylor, Perkins, Harris, Samuels & Lala. Okay, so maybe Manassas turned out not to be such a big deal after all, and SWAG, by virtue of its bursting-at-the-seams potential (not to mention built-in critical appeal), could be seen as just another set of musical bowling pins being set up for the big 7-10 split. A notion you'll drop roughly five seconds into opening track "Lone," when the first glorious jangly (ouch) 12-string guitar chord comes crashing into earshot and this unerring slab of harmony-rich Hollies-meets-Posies pop rings out lustily for a tidy two minutes and two seconds. Said 12-string is wielded with panache by Robert Reynolds, on loan from the Mavericks, and he's joined by singing, playing and songwriting co-conspirators Ken Coomer (Wilco), Sixpence None the Richer's Jerry Dale McFadden, Cheap Trick's Tom Petersson and solo artist Doug Powell (also known for his work with Todd Rundgren). Other notable contributors in the mix include pop-country maestro Bill Lloyd, Mavericks horn player Scotty Huff, session guitar whiz Kenny Vaughn and occasional bassist Brad Jones, who also handles producing and engineering chores.
Anyhow, glom on to these dozen songs of pop brilliance. It's for folks like you, who never gave up on the possibility of a contemporary British Invasion being mounted by those who care (no, we're not talking Blur, Oasis or the Boo Friggin' Radleys), and it's for folks like me, long rumored to have been harboring a secret grudge against all the contemporary fat, shaved-head mooks with half-assed goatees and open-tuning dissonance fetishes. The Reynolds/McFadden/Huff-penned "Louise" borrows a guitar lick from the Searchers, a throbbing surf bass line (whoops) from the Ventures and a neo-baroque string pattern from the Left Banke, while the lush, George Martin-like arrangement for Powell and Petersson's "When She Awoke" is gorgeous enough to send charter members of the World Party and ELO fan clubs scrambling to send in their SWAG dues. Talk about inspired pastiche -- "Different Girl," another R/M/H composition, is melodically kin to both "The Christmas Song" and John Lennon's "Piggies" while featuring a guest vocal from McCartney sound-alike Huff plus a preeminent Pet Sounds vibe running throughout. The collectively penned "Please Don't Tell" marries the Zombies' "Tell Her No" to a tough-guy Kinks riff, and on and on go the musical references, flitting by like the coolest montage VH1 never envisioned for its "Where Are They Now?" exposés.
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But the guys in SWAG, bless 'em all, aren't destined for some cable channel's version of the dustbin of pop history. Their sound, though steeped in homage, is utterly fresh, of the here and now, charming the pants off lovers of classic pop everywhere. Besides, what can a poor rock critic to do, 'cept to write about a rock 'n' roll band, particularly when it is irredeemably, irrefutably, irresistibly -- go on, you know you wanna say it -- BEATLESQUE? Whew, that felt good.