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September 2005
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December 2005

The King of Power-Pop

If there is a king of the power-pop genre, it’s got to be Paul McCartney. For all the mediocre records that he has released in the past 20 years or so, he’s still got the greatest arsenal of songs. I’m not just talking about The Beatles era material. I’m talking about solo material, and more importantly, Wings. Now he’s back with a new album and a tour.

He played here in St. Paul last night and I was fortunate enough to get tickets to the sold out show. It was nothing short of amazing. The sound, production and lights weren’t really any different or more spectacular that any other major arena show. No, what made this one different, so much better, were the songs. He played over 30 songs in about 2 and a half hours, and they were all brilliant. Every single one a gem with an amazing melody and hook. I have no idea how one person wrote all those amazing songs. Admittedly, he had some help with some of them, but still…it boggles the mind. He played over 30 songs and I loved every one of them…I can’t think of another artist that could possibly do that. The kicker is, he’s got another 20 or so that I would love just as much that he didn’t play. He opened with Magical Mystery Tour, one of my favorite Beatles tracks. He also played 4 from his new album, and they stood up with the other tracks perfectly, which is a testament to just how good the new album, Chaos and Creation in the Backyard, really is. Most agree is the best thing he’s done in almost 25 years.

So this show was all about the songs. It doesn’t hurt that his band has been with him now for a number of years and they are extremely tight and great musicians. Paul’s voice still sounds great. He’s looking older all the time, but it’s amazing, when you look at him you still see this young boy that was a Beatle. He was very funny and talked and joked with the crowd a lot. I love that British sense of humor and he was definitely on last night.

With all those amazing songs, what stood out the most was the Wings material. I don’t know if it’s my personal taste, or this bands performance, or the arrangements, but those are the songs that were the strongest and most enjoyable for me. I went with a friend and he felt the same way. Paul seems to come alive a bit more on those tracks. I think those also fit into my definition of power-pop the best as well. Songs like Band on the Run and Jet were so good live. I wish everyone I know could have been there to see it.

The Return of Intelligent Pop

If you’re a fan of beautiful, intelligent and melodic pop, these are good times. There are a number of recent releases that have surprised me and surpassed my expectations. I’m talking about harmonies; great pop vocals, Beatle-esque elements and nice mixture of keyboards.

David Mead – Wherever You Are

Every song on this 6-song EP is brilliant. Fans of Crowded House will definitely want to pick this one up. David’s previous releases have been nice, but spotty, but these songs hit the mark. They were recorded as part of a full-length release for RCA, but they dropped him (along with most of the rest of their roster) and it never got released. All for the better probably, because he’s taken what are most likely the best songs from that unreleased album and put them out as an EP. This just enforces my belief that sometimes less is more. This EP is a perfect length with 6 fantastic tracks that leave you wanting more. Just the way I like it.

(Thanks to musicologist Jim Worthen for the tip on this one!)

Paul McCartney – Chaos and Creation in the Backyard

This is, without a doubt, the best album Paul McCartney has released in over 25 years. It’s the most consistent and enjoyable record he’s done in a long, long time. I don’t know what to attribute that too. One of the biggest factors may be the producer, Nigel Godrich, who has made a name for himself with Radiohead and others. He has helped Paul achieve the perfect touch with these tracks, showing just enough restraint, yet still giving it a really cool vibe. Even so, it comes down to the songs, and lyrically at least, Paul is at his best, heartfelt, meaningful, and hold the cheese. For those of you that love the cheese, there’s one track here for you, English Tea, and even that somehow rings true in the context of the record. The melodies are here. Not since his days with The Beatles and his first solo album, has he managed melodies like this. Two of my favorite tracks are Too Much Rain and Jenny Wren. Overall it’s more beautiful than quirky, but it’s a solid album and the whole thing holds up well. I’m hoping those discouraged with his previous solo efforts will give it try.

Rob Dickinson – Fresh Wine for the Horses

This is the debut solo release from the former Catherine Wheel front man. For better or worse, this album really has very few similarities to his old band. This is a lush pop effort with layered vocals, strings, piano and a number of really great songs. My Name is Love, the opening track, is one of my favorite pop songs of the year. The album continues in this lush pop vein until track 6 when the guitars and drums kick in. Both styles work well for Rob, and his vocals are what make this record great. This one is also in the running for my favorite album title and packaging for the year.

(Thanks to The Andre Salles Magix for the recommendation!

Sam Ashworth – Gonna Get It Wrong Before I Get It Right

What do you get when you combine infectious pop melodies with beautiful arrangements and a guest list that includes Fleming & John, David Mead, Matt Slocum and John Davis? The new Sam Ashworth CD. Wow, good stuff. This one is a step up from his first release. It’s a more consistent record with better songs and arrangements. It’s almost power pop, but not quite as quirky as a lot of my recommendations. Fans of Crowded House, John Davis, David Mead and The Beatles should all check this one out.