Monday, May 09, 2005

Power Pop 1990-1999 - 90's Flourish

Power Pop 1990-1999 - 90's Flourish
As the 1980's came to a close, there was something beginning to bubble up from the underground. As 'alternative' or 'college music' started make it's way gingerly on the charts, American artists like Matthew Sweet, Jellyfish and The Posies were fine-tuning their craft in their home recording environments, right up next to LP's of Big Star, The Raspberries, The Hollies (for the Posies,) and The Move (for Jellyfish.)
Matthew Sweet
Spending the 1980's as a jangle-pop artist with Uh-Ok, and The Golden Palominos, Matthew Sweet recorded a couple solo records, Inside and Earth, which featured a songwriter buried in production woes. After playing bass on a couple albums with Lloyd Cole (on Lloyd Cole, and Don't Get Weird on Me Babe) Sweet came back to record another solo release, this time without overproduced hand that A&M had been forcing on Sweet. Utilizing friends Richard Lloyd (Guitars, ex-Television)Robert Quine and Bill Maher (Guitars and Drums, ex-Richard Hell's Voivoids) Sweet's Girlfriend sounded markedly different from his previous over-produced releases. Instead of giving the label straight pop, like they wanted, Sweet mixed in some of the raw sound of some of his favorites like Big Star and Neil Young into the Beatlesque/REM pop he'd started with. A&M listened to it and found it too loud and brash, refused to release it and dropped Sweet from the label, leaving Zoo records to scoop it up and release it in late 1991. As fate would have it, the public was ready for something in this vein following Nirvana's Nevermind breakout. Word-of-mouth spread and it became a huge hit for Sweet and the power pop revival.

The Posies
Meanwhile, Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow (The Posies) first recorded a pop gem (Faliure) in Auer's parent's home in Bellingham. DGC, in the beginning of their power pop signing frenzy, signed them and sent them to John Leckie (XTC, Pink Floyd, George Harrison) To record their DGC debut, Dear 23. While still more pop then power, the Seattle scene (Nirvana, again) couldn't help but rub off on them and their next release was the power pop classic Frosting on the Beater (a masturbation reference.) They never achieved the commercial success many had hoped upon them, but more then their share of critical acclaim.

In San Francisco, 1989, Andy Sturmer and Roger Manning Jr. were unhappy in their current band (Beatnik Beatch) and decided to start writing their own material for a new project. Influenced by Paul McCartney's Wings, Badfinger, and The Move, their songs took on a sound that was both original and derivative at the same time. With the break up of Beatnik Beatch, Manning recruited USC buddy Jason Falkner and Jellyfish was born. They released Bellybutton 1990 to critical acclaim, but again, commercial impact wasn't to be found. At this point Falkner left the group when he was continually thwarted from songwriting contribution and went on to form The Grays (with Jon Brion) and has continued recording solo since. Jellyfish recorded one more album (the brilliant Spilt Milk, 1993) that also received critical accolades, and as before fell short of commercial expectations, which led to their breakup.

Teenage Fanclub
Meanwhile, in Scotland (1989,) yet another band was schooled on Big Star and embraced power pop while in the midst of a shoegazer environment. Teenage Fanclub recorded their Catholic Education and through the help of Steven Pastel (The Pastels) it found the ear of Matador Records, who released it in 1991. Spin Magazine called it their album of the year and there was another major label feeding frenzy, with DGC making bagging another power pop group. Enter their second recording, Bandwagonesque, 1992. Marked by Don Fleming's pop-grunge production, each song is itself a mini-masterpiece of power pop confectionery, and is the flagship album of the 1990's power pop revival. The same year saw them top Rolling Stone magazine's yearly album list, play on Saturday Night Live, and open for Nirvana. Their next album, Grand Prix, was even closer to Big Star, but less grunge-y and DGC, in the midst of a grunge mania, dropped them.

In Canada, the band Sloan was released an album (Smeared, 1992) that crossed The Beatles with Sonic Youth, and DGC (Sonic Youth's label as well) picked them up. Their DGC debut, Twice Removed (1994,) was an artistic success, full of crunchy hooks and sweet harmonies. A poll by Chart! magazine had it "The Best Canadian Album Ever" and it made Spin Magazine's "Best Album You Didn't Hear this Year." Why didn't you hear it? Because DGC buried it... not grunge-y enough (again with the grunge mania!) They refused to release their next release (One Chord to Another, perhaps a close second in the best Canadian album ever poll) and finally Sloan was let out of their contract to release it on Murder Records.

About this time, one of the great inspirations of power pop decided to get back together and tour. Alex Chilton and Jody Stephens, employing the services of the Posies (for the United States tour) and Teenage Fanclub (for it's European Dates,) brought every power pop geeks' dream to life by playing a series of dates under their old moniker Big Star. They documented their first show at Columbia University with the album Columbia: Live At Missouri University, with Ken Stringfellow and Jon Auer of the Posies playing the part of Chris Bell and Andy Hummel. That and later subsequent shows were packed with musicians and true music fans at every show, even as the genre was losing steam in the major labels eyes.

During this run, many bands not known for power pop, wrote some gems of the genre. Ride, key purveyor of the shoegazer genre, recorded a few power pop songs ("Twisterella,) Weezer released their self-titled debut which danced around the genre, and even Frank Black (The Pixies) got in on the end of the run with the great song "Headache." But as record labels continued their Grunge mania, they buried albums and dropped artists in the genre.
Brendan Benson - One Mississippi
One artist at this time ('96) was a young Brendan Benson, hailed at the time as 'the next Matthew Sweet,' an unfortunate title. Jason Falkner produced and co-wrote half the songs on his first release One Mississippi, but the label (this time Virgin) rejected it, and sent him back in the studio with Jane's Addiction producer Ethan James, to get a rougher sound. After it's release, Benson was dropped from the label. Portions of the original Falkner-produced demos were released later on an EP called Well Fed Boy. (Click for tracks "Crosseyed," and "Me Just Purely.") Esquire writer Jeff Gordinier listed One Mississippi among "the greatest overlooked pop masterpieces of the decade." (You'll notice throughout, the terms 'overlooked' and 'pop masterpieces' seem to be connected when talking about this genre of music.)

While Jellyfish is no more (Falkner still records, but wasn't a songwriter in the group,) the rest exist in some form still, and were relegated to 'cult' status after the initial power pop revival bubble burst and it's popularity waned with it's counterpart grunge and shoegazer movements. All have gone through being dropped by labels and longer periods of time between records, but are still actively recording and awaiting the next power pop revival, which could be just around the corner...

Power Pop 1999-? - New Centurians
Power Pop Covers

Power Pop 1966-1978 - Pioneers
Power Pop 1980-1989 - Charts & Excess


drake leLane said...

Power Pop 1990-1998 - 90's Flourish

* "Golden Blunders" - The Posies
* "That Is Why" - Jellyfish
* "Girlfriend" - Matthew Sweet
* "Valerie Loves Me" - Material Issue
* "Falling Away" - Richard X. Heyman
* "The Concept" - Teenage Fanclub
* "Twisterella" - Ride
* "In The Street" - Big Star
* "Hold Me Up" - Velvet Crush
* "No One Else" - Weezer
* "Adieu" - The Greenberry Woods
* "Headache" - Frank Black
* "Colors" - The Rooks
* "The Entry" - The Hangups
* "The Party Rages On" - Zumpano
* "I Live" - Jason Falkner
* "Sucked Out" - Superdrag
* "Rumor Has It" - The Honeydogs
* "Everything You've Done Wrong" - Sloan
* "Cars Collide" - Marvelous 3

Amanda said...

This is the one I was waiting for.

drake leLane said...

I really should've waited one more day, as the new Sloan album A Sides Win was just released today, with songs from the albums that Rhapsody's missing.

Oh well... I'll figure out a way to get it in the next power pop decad post.

Jack Graham said...

"Sick of Myself" is the greatest single since "Southern Girls"...discuss.

So happy to see you listed the Zumpano song. Speaking of Velvet Crush, ever hear their "One Thing Two Believe"?

drake leLane said...

Yes, love love love the Velvet Crush...

I noticed the new Weezer album has a song ("My Best Friend") that sounds like it's copping the "Sick of Myself" verse guitar line, but I always find myself hearing Sweet in any new power pop I hear.

I'm partial to "Solar Sister" by The Posies, and "Sparky's Dream" by Teenage Fanclub, but that would mean ignoring "A Million Miles Away" by The Plimsouls.

Of course none of these were very popular.

Jack Graham said...

"Jetfighter," The Three O'Clock (I believe Jason Falkner's band before Jellyfish)

drake leLane said...

Wow, now that's obscure. I'll have to look for that one... is it on a compilation or something?

Jack Graham said...

Rhapsody should definitely have the Three O'Clock. pretty sure it's on there, at least

drake leLane said...

It is in there!

I like it...I'm not sure I'd it power pop, though... definitely in the Paisly Underground movement for sure. I'd do a post on that, but there are too many holes in the Rhapsody catalogue (no Green on Red, very little Dream Syndicate.)

Falkner did in fact play with The Three O'Clock years later after they were signed to Prince's Paisley Park label, based on the fact they were friends with The Bangles. It was an awful record, and Prince even contributed an awful song. But it was Falkner's first big songwriting credit, I believe, so that's at least something.

Jack Graham said...

yeah, definitely more paisley than power pop, thought it was a very interesting listen tho

drake leLane said...