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Main Category: Pop Rock
Also applicable: Psychedelia, Art Rock
Starting Period: From Grunge To The Present Day
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Year Of Release: 1990
Overall rating = 11

Big Star reborn for the Nineties?


Track listing: 1) My Big Mouth; 2) Golden Blunders; 3) Apology; 4) Any Other Way; 5) You Avoid Parties; 6) Suddenly Mary; 7) Help Yourself; 8) Mrs Green; 9) Everyone Moves Away; 10) Flood Of Sunshine.

I think that after endless listens I figured out what these guys' problem really is. It's not the songwriting - the Posies' major label debut is brimming with songwriting ideas. It's overproduction. But not the kind of overproduction you usually associate with the epoch. The Posies don't go for hi-tech synths or zillions of hair metal guitar solos or chokin' drum machines. Instead, they drown almost every single song of theirs in echoey, dreamy washes of acoustic guitars - and thus smoothe and "wipe away" the jagged, could-be-instantly-memorable hooks. My first impression of Dear 23 was: "wow, these guys really got a lush, wond'rous sound going on, especially for 1990, but they couldn't recognize a good melody if it bit them on their ass".

I found out later that I was completely wrong. The Auer/Stringfellow duo sure know how to write a song. They also sure know how to sing it, understanding the strengths of both double-tracked harmony singing and solo passages. And they know how to record it in a timeless manner, so you can take it to your Dad and say, 'Hey Dad! Here's a Badfinger outtake I know you'll like!'. But sure enough it took some time to realize that. And it will yet take more time to memorize these songs, because the only thing that really wishes to imprint itself in my head is "jingle jangle drummy drummy drummy jingle jangle whoosh whoosh". Whenever I put the album on, though, it's a total gas, power-pop at its most compelling and inspiring.

Well, maybe that was a bit of an exaggeration. Two songs have particularly well-defined hooks, and they're so good because of that I finally settled on a rating of 11 for the record. 'Golden Blunders' is a fine cheerful ditty about early unwanted pregnancy, although you'd never guess it was so fine from the bland Ringo Starr cover on his 1992 album (where the Posies helped him record it). And 'Suddenly Mary' makes no lyrical sense at all, but it's just so lush and resplendent in its slightly psychedelically-tinged goodness I can't help feeling uplifted about it - mostly the 'suddenly Mary's fine, fine' chant at the end, of course.

Speaking about psychedelia, these guys obviously took their lesson from drug-minded Sixties/Seventies dudes as well: it's the only thing that explains the extended cathartic guitar solo on 'Flood Of Sunshine', which I could sort of explain like Jimi Hendrix guitar weirdness meets Dave Gilmour dentistry meets Lindsey Buckingham emotionality. You'd never think a bunch of longhairs hailing from the same lair as Kurt Cobain could display such versatility and raw instrumental talent, but they do, delivering a guitar solo of a beauty and power you'll have a hard time encountering among the creations of any other Nineties band (what with instrumental prowess falling into disfavour and all).

These three songs are the obvious highlights for me, but there's more to the album. There's some fast boppy pop-rockers that roll along at a nice pace and show more of that Sixties' influence a la The Move ('My Big Mouth'). There's a couple moody plaintive ballads with Beatles For Sale-era vocals ('Apology'). There's a couple moody plaintive underarranged ballads sporting a personal (or preachy) lyrical message ('You Avoid Parties'). There's at least one track driven by a hard rock riff, presaging the band's "getting on to it" on later albums ('Help Yourself', which still has a one hundred percent power pop chorus). There's a song that opens with a cell phone ringing (Kinks' Face To Face reference?) and features character assasination lyrics (Kinks' you-name-it reference?) sung to a jazzy beat. There's.. well, you got me anyway.

It's not like I'm propagating this album's diversity: as I've said, the mushy squishy romantic production from John Leckie pretty much levels down all the tunes. On the other hand, it's an exquisitely tasteful production, matching the album's cover art - all these dim candle lights and romantic colour overtones. The songs are, sort of, hazey, all of them. And if the haze can prevent you from fully enjoying everything that's going on (or, at least, memorizing it), it can't prevent you from having a distinct feel that there's something important going on, and that the Posies aren't merely copying their influences, but trying to build something relatively new upon their rotten carcasses. Because, funny enough, while I can name at least a handful of "prototypes" for each of these songs, I have a hard time trying to imagine any of the band's idols, be it Big Star, the Beatles, Pink Floyd, the Kinks, the Byrds, whoever, sounding quite like this.

It's funny to realize that this album and Nirvana's Nevermind were actually separated by mere months, and yet, both coming out of Seattle's nowhere, the first one sank into the depths of the underground and the second one rose to the top, even pulling out some of the underground with it. Just goes to show, actually, how much the Posies were out of touch with the epoch - which doesn't speak awful well for the epoch, I'm afraid. Just why exactly is inoffensive, undemanding, and yet tasteful music like this always out-of-fashion, I'll never be able to fathom. What, were The Posies so much "above" the average consumer?


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