Categorization is one of the realities of widespread music/art consumption, and despite how much energy and time is spent trying to avoid labels, no one is above that sort of thing. And amongst those admittedly simplistic designations are several problematic cristenings: punk, garage, classic rock. And amongst those, one of the most unfortunate is “power-pop,” something that goes further than garage and punk in the “I’ll know it once I see it, but I cannot tell you what it is” category.
So far as anyone seems able to elucidate, power-pop started sometime in the mid to late sixties and was perfected by Big Star. More accurately, power-pop was perfected by Alex Chilton, something a whole lot of people seem to be certain of for reasons they can’t particularly explain.
Regardless, Big Star/Alex Chilton created untouchable, seemingly unassailable touchstones of power-pop and are the accepted beginning of the music’s evolution as a supposed genre: the thing known as “power-pop” seems to have stemmed mostly from Chilton’s music, and Big Star’s first three (primarily, first two) records are arguably the pinnacle of power-pop achievement.
But what is power-pop?
Best as I can discern, it’s no-bullshit rock ‘n’ roll that originated with Big Star (and definitely around that time) and was most influenced (in my opinion) by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers more so than the music influenced by the Band. The torch went from Big Star to Cheap Trick to Foo Fighters to any number of more obscure bands, since the “genre” seems to have faded to an underground status.
So the questions: Am I full of shit in thinking that Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers are the greatest power-pop band ever? (They’re much more, I think, but if they can be considered a power-pop band, wouldn’t they be the most important?) Is Big Star/Chilton a required name-drop, or is the music as timeless as has been purported? Were the Kinks the first actual power-pop band?
Let me know. In the meantime...
The Bellrays will make their Houston stop on Sunday at Rudyard’s. The Californian quartet has been beating the countryside for years with some of those most legit R&B-based rock to hit tape in decades. Also on the bill are Architects Vice and San Antonio’s all-star Suzy Bravo & the Soul Revue.
And insofar as power-pop is concerned . . .
The Chevelles, Barbarella Girl God: Introducing the Chevelles (Wicked Cool)
The Chevelles have honed their aesthetic through three full-length albums and 18 years of existence. The guitars are some of the biggest in the business—towering power chords straight from the loins of Pete Townshend, almost too big and always melodic in an immaculate way. Barbarella Girl God is the band’s first release on Wicked Cool Records (a new album, Accelerator, is due later this year).
“Zaragoza” brings the whole compilation into focus: a song about rock ‘n’ roll fantasies, hitting a new bar in a new city, exploring the urban jungle with fresh young eyes and energy to match, while “C’Mon Everybody” has one of those bittersweet, anthemic riffs that turn any car into a convertible. The Chevelles have the ability to make you feel young without the burden of naivete, while they take you in the opposite direction with a track like “Every Moment,” a heart-on-sleeve love song entirely deserving of a Top 20 video. It’s the sort of thing you can’t help but play until the point of super-saturation.
“Get It On” may be the definitive Chevelles song: it is possessed of a towering riff, spot-on tambourine, party-provoking lyrics and a screaming wah solo. It’s Chevelles at their best, maxed-out in fifth gear, waiting for a cylinder to blow. This, again, is the band’s glaring weakness: even on a seemingly laid-back song like “Goodbye Sally,” everything rocks. There are no ballads on the entire disc, which may turn away some listeners since this whole thing is meant as an introduction.
The Chevelles’ one big flaw may be a lack of dynamics, an overall sameness that forces you into a corner and makes you decide whether you’re listening to something that refuses to stretch or something that just consistently rocks. Which is sort of like complaining because Alex Chilton couldn’t write “Detroit Rock City,” but it’s still a complaint. What separates this band from the droves of power-pop contenders is their foundation in life’s dark side: the greatest power-pop bands are driven by a single-minded goal to go and hunt for the beautiful things in life, and anyone who spends that much time writing about the elusive She is bound to spend a lot of time pouring wine upon waking (even if at 11 p.m., as in the aforementioned “Goodbye Sally”). It’s music that has the power to make you long for a party while stabbing you in the heart.
The only ill-advised selection in the bunch is “Deceivin’,” which is a fine tune but doesn’t really fit here. “For Your Love” is a faithful cover, but it offers a glimpse into the band’s DNA rather than coming off as a slovenly homage. “Come Back to Me” is a slow-burn wrencher, while “She Don’t Come Around” is one of the disc’s finest moments, a time when the band eased of the overdrive and showed their actual muscularity.
There are few missteps here, and fans of the band will be proud to see their boys in action. And as a primer, this disc shows potential fans what they’re getting themselves into. If you need lots of movement, diversity and innovation, take a pass. If you want something to play every day on the way home from work and can appreciate some straightforward rock, this is a fine place to start. – Chris Henderson
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