Like your favorite comfort food, power pop music is familiar, tasty and satisfying... and, sometimes, it's the only thing you want.
If you consider The Raspberries' 1972 self-titled debut album and its absolutely perfect single, "Go All The Way," as the genesis of the genre (and I do, with apologies to Badfinger), it'll turn a venerable 40 years of age next year. Over the course of nearly four decades, power pop's hallmarks of concise song structures, ringing guitar hooks, catchy choruses and sweet harmonies have gone in and out of fashion, but the genre's never gone away. It's evergreen.
Power pop's genealogy may not boast the biggest names in rock 'n' roll, but it certainly contains some memorable and respected ones: Big Star, Cheap Trick, The Romantics, The Cars, Marshall Crenshaw, Tommy Keene, Redd Kross, Hoodoo Gurus, The Smithereens, Teenage Fanclub, Matthew Sweet, The Posies and Fountains of Wayne to name a handful from the first three decades of the genre.
The summer of 2011 featured a three-horse race for power pop album of the season, with Army Navy, Locksley and The Postelles all releasing new albums. Let's take a closer look at each of these discs to see how they fared at the finish line.
Army Navy The Last Place
The sophomore album for Los Angeles-based Army Navy picks up where their strong, self-titled debut left off. Sparkling guitar licks along with layered harmonies on the backing vocals make for sweet sonics, which are nicely offset by singer/songwriter Justin Kennedy's sharp and sour lyrics detailing a doomed love affair with a married celebrity. He painfully dissects the relationship's demise, occasionally with ripostes worthy of a standup comic: "You said it was 'only me and you... except your husband.'" But it's that combination of the bitter words and the sweet music that gives The Last Place an emotional heft and lasting resonance not generally associated with power pop.
Finish: Win, by two lengths.
The Postelles The Postelles
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The Postelles' first full-length sounds like a preppy, scrubbed-clean version of The Strokes' debut, Is This It? Although that's certainly not original, it's definitely not a bad thing. Perhaps it was unavoidable, given that Strokes' guitarist Albert Hammond, Jr. was an early champion of his fellow NYC band and produced their 2008 debut EP, which contributes five of its six songs to this record. Their brittle and sharply-strummed rhythm guitar attack links the two groups sonically, but Postelles' singer Daniel Balk's vocal and lyrical style is much more of a wide-eyed innocent than the seedy and knowing words and whine of The Strokes' Julian Casablancas. This is most obvious when it dawns on Balk that the object of his affection is a lesbian in the ham-fisted "Boy's Best Friend." While they've yet to transcend their most obvious influence, The Postelles' exuberance is still infectious. Hear even more of it on their Summer Undercovers EP, available free at www.thepostelles.com.
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Finish: Place, a fine showing for their first time out of the gate.
With a shout of "whoo, alright!" opening their self-titled disc, Locksley serve immediate notice that this is a feel-good record and the fun never lets up over the course of its 35 minutes. Declarations of love are made, rival suitors are dispatched and there's even a silly and adoring ode to their home state "Oh, Wisconsin!" ("feeling great since 1848"). The album brims over with the rambunctious and reckless energy of youth, both musically and lyrically. If it sounds like you've heard it all before, however, that may be because Locksley shares more than half of its 12 tracks with the band's Be In Love album from last year.
Finish: Show, still in the money... but last place in a three-horse race.