The Poptopia Series, Vol. 3

Vol. 3 - Power Pop Classics of the '90s

Favorite cut: The Lemonheads, "Into Your Arms"
Least favorite cut: The Rooks, "Reasons"

I admit it - I'm pretty bored with the '90s. No great movements and only a handful of great bands to get excited about. Maybe there's lots of great stuff out there that I'm not aware of, and the '90s will turn out like the '80s - crap floats to the surface, you gotta dig to get to the goodies. Certainly my two favorite bands of this decade - Sloan and the late, lamented House of Freaks - have pretty much been ignored by mainstream critics. Well, I'm right and they're idiots. I just bought a Royal Trux album the other day. Why does anyone think we need a fifth-rate Exile On Pussy Galore Street? Grunge and electronica are reheated metal and disco from the '70s that aren't even half as good as the originals, and let me tell you Grand Funk Railroad and the Village People were not exactly the cream of the crap when those genres began in the first place.

I'm sorry, I'm just aquired a stomach virus today and am not in a particularly jolly mood, so excuse my grumpiness. At least there's still good power-pop out there; as I've said before, it's like the blues, it runs like the Energizer Bunny. That's not to say the '90s comp in this series is the weakest of the bunch. In fact, some souls might assume from a casual perusal that in this decade the genre seems to have run out of a little steam. I don't think that's necessarily so. The difference between this comp and the preceding '70s and '80s comps is that hindsight is 20/20. I think that the two preceding comps were excellent snapshots of the era, and I wouldn't have made any major alterations in the track selection. The '90s comp is a different story altogether; present are any number of overhyped bands too early in the game to know whether they'll have staying power. And most of the '90s power-pop stars haven't reached the bargain bins yet like yer Rundgrens and Bangles, a lot of the best stuff was unlicensable. The liner notes apologize for not including Oasis, Material Issue, Teenage Fanclub (way overrated, but "The Concept" is a great song), and others. Speaking o'the Gallagher Bros., howsabout including some of the new Brit-Pop bands? Where are the Scots, for that haggis (Vaselines, I'm talking to you). My definition of power-pop includes Guided By Voices, the High Llamas, Apples In Stereo, etc. And there are several singer-songwriters such as Richard X. Heyman and Chris Von Sniedern that would have improved the overall quality. Not to mention.... But that's enough. Are the '90s looking better?


Matthew Sweet, "I've Been Waiting," - The lead track on his neo-classic Girlfriend is fine, but I'd rather hear "Evangaline." I wonder what his real girlfriend thinks of all these odes to other women?

Jellyfish, "That Is Why," - Sounds like East Side Story Squeeze without the sparkle or hooks.

Ride, "Twisterella," - Before Brit-Pop, England had this infatuation with Shoe-Gazing. The big daddies of the movement included one band that would have been great if they had learned how to write songs, My Bloody Valentine (ah, but that guitar tone!); one tolerable but highly overrated one, the Stone Roses; and one flat-out godawful one, the Jesus and the Mary Chain. Future scholars will view this artifact as a prime example of the form, if anyone still cares.

Gigola Aunts, "Cope" - Again, circa 2014, this shall be trot out as a prime generic example of '90s American alternative rock.

The Rembrandts, "Rollin' Down the Hill" - Sounds like the Everly Brothers meet Squeeze. Breezy and soulful, lightweight for cruising down the road at a relaxed pace, and considerable better than "I'll Be There For You."

The Tearaways, "Jessica Something," - Pretty, and it's got that slightly forced, big surging chorus that reminds me of the stuff Kurt Cobain tried on his In Utero ballads.

The Posies, "Solar Sister," - Ted Dreiser quoting marriage of rock power and pop bliss, it's probably the Posies' best song.

Wondermints, "Proto-Pretty," - Nice swirling guitar hook. Can't figure out what Brian Wilson gets so worked up about, though.

The Lemonheads, "Into Your Arms," - Great singles band, inconsistent albums. A kindred soul with filmmaker Richard Linklater (Slacker, the one set in Vienna with Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpe that I can't remember the title of right now, from which this song soundtracks), 'cause both are big stoners, dude.

Redd Kross, "Lady In the Front Row," - Since they're such narrowly-focused '70s revivalists, they don't ape the Beatles - they ape Cheap Trick aping the Beatles.

The Grays, "Same Thing," - A moodier Jellyfish? Why?

The Rooks, "Reasons," - "We Just Disagree," Dave Mason.

The Greenberry Woods, "Trampoline," - Somehow these guys wind up aping the Beatles and the Monkees at the same time. Kind of like the Pooh Sticks (where are they on this comp?), but less arch and more accomplished.

Velocity Girl, "I Can't Stop Smiling," - America's answer to Shoe-Gazing. Pretty back-up vocals, though.

Velvet Crush, "Hold Me Up," - Good band, good songs. So how come Marilyn Manson is on the cover of Spin and the A.P. Press and they're not? Gee, do you think some people care more about image than the actual music?

Zumpano, "The Party Rages On," - I'm sure glad this comp starts picking up near the end. Good use of dynamics.

P. Hux, "Every Minute," - I have no strong feelings towards this track good or ill. Moody singer-songwriter, he's no Elvis Costello but he's no Eric Carmen, either.

Idle Wilds, "You're All Forgiven," - Pop song (has a melody), grunge structure (amps go up to 11 for the chorus). Just like Nirvana, only not as catchy (of course).

Overall grade: ***1/2 - Despite my grumpiness, the good tracks generally outweighed the weak tracks, and the weak tracks serve a purpose in exposing overhyped new bands as overhyped. Plus this will all probably sound a lot stronger a decade from now. But by then, of course, some one will have released a stronger overview of the '90s, anyway.

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