Saturday, March 31, 2012

Power Pop Lives….In Sweden?

Power pop is an enduring musical style that still has many loyal fans, including current acts like Fountains of Wayne, Tinted Windows, OK Go & The Smithereens. It draws its influences from the 1960s sound of groups like The Beatles, The Who, The Kinks, The Beach Boys and The Byrds. The initial wave of power pop occurred in the 1970s and early 80s, when acts like Big Star, Cheap Trick, Badfinger, The Cars and Todd Rundgren were in their heyday. And for every well known group like The Raspberries or The Knack, there were many one hit wonders & cult favorites like The La’s, The Plimsouls, The Records or The dBs. There was even some crossover with the burgeoning punk & new wave movements, with musicians like Nick Lowe, Elvis Costello, The Romantics, Squeeze and The Jam releasing music with at least one foot in the genre.

In the 90s and early 2000s, power pop had something of a renaissance: Artists like Matthew Sweet, Jellyfish, Fastball, The Rembrandts and Marshall Crenshaw recorded great retro pop records during this period. One of the best albums from this era is 1997’s Bubblegun, the second album by Sweden’s The Merrymakers. The duo of Anders Hellgren and David Myhr write songs that sound fresh, but would fit comfortably into the eras of their many influences. It's an excellent release, following up their 1995 debut No Sleep Til Famous, another great power pop record.

There are great melodies and killer pop hooks here, with wall-to-wall jangly guitars & sweet harmonies. Songs like April’s Fool (with it’s almost Abba-esque keyboards), the Squeeze-like A Fine Line, and the beautiful ballad Adore (which sounds like a Crowded House outtake) are some of the highlights. Superstar is swirling, fast & percussive; Troubled Times is another sweet love song with excellent lyrics; the McCartney-ish Monkey in the Middle and the bouncy, upbeat Under the Light of the Moon are also standouts. This is an album that demands repeat spins on your CD player, iPod or music system, and grows on you with each listen. You can hear influences in their sound from bands as diverse as Queen, R.E.M., The Hollies, The Beatles and XTC.

While The Merrymakers didn’t make much of a splash in the U.S., they did have their fans, including Andy Sturmer, best known as the leader of power pop masters Jellyfish. Sturmer had heard & liked some of the bands earlier music, so he offered to collaborate on songwriting and production work for the album. He plays drums on the record as well. In a way, Bubblegun became kind of a summit meeting of the power pop elite. If you’re a Jellyfish fan, you’ll appreciate the record even more. Sadly, the album is the last release to date by the band, but David Myhr has just released his solo debut, Soundshine, and if the single Got You Where He Wanted is any indication, it will be another retro pop classic.

Bubblegun is available at online outlets like Amazon and the iTunes store. Some versions of the album come packaged either with a few bonus tracks or an additional disc containing 5 songs from No Sleep Til Famous and they are also worth a listen. Stay tuned in the future for more coverage of classic & current power pop, and thanks for reading.

Here are links to April's Fool and Monkey in the Middle from Bubblegun.

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