A question that is often all caps shouted across screens by keyboard warriors defending their record collection decisions.
Power Pop. A holy grail whose contents are loudly proclaimed obvious (depending who ya ask) and essential. Apparently sacred (yet neverendingly argued) since the storied days of Peter Case losing his Nerves to then lace up his Plimsouls. Somehow important yet almost impossible to achieve… one wrong move, a drink too far, a chord eschewing a jangle and you’re “just rock n roll”.
Or so it seems…
The Speedways. The members languidly lean on the bars of darkened London pubs or float like spectres in corners of Some Weird Sin and Garageland gigs. Striped shirts and leather jackets. Dirty street-tamed Chucks and scuffed Thunders boots carry them from one late night heartache to another.
They are true believers who take their turn on stage with hearts outshining the Cheap Trick badges.
How do you capture it? How do you?
This album is a stellar example of doing just that. It is the emotion, the essence of love (lost and yearned for) that makes special songs, damn the torpedoes and neat classifications.
This is their second full-length album and the growth since ‘Just Another Regular Summer’ is apparent right off the opening track. ‘This Ain’t A Radio Sound’ opens with a playful ‘80’s Cars ‘Heartbeat City’ keyboard that is somehow right at home alongside the dirty street jangle of Mauro Venegas’ guitars. Then Matthew Julian saunters in, his vocals accomplishing a feat in common with that of my favourite singers. It is instantly recognisable. Equal parts world-weary and up to the fight. Like how Phil Lynott would somehow whisper your thoughts back to you. At once like a friend and someone you wish you had the nerve to approach. A very rare and special dichotomy that gains trust from the listener. People will say you’re born with that. I can see here that you can earn it.
‘The Day I Call You Mine’ shakes off the skinny tie and gets tough. And sweet. The rhythm section of Kris Hood and Adrian Alfonso are like a modern day Mike Joyce and Andy Rourke of The Smiths. Taking the gorgeous songcraft and walking it home like schoolyard best friend bodyguards. In fact, every melody and arpeggiated chord on this long-player is kept safe in their scrappy hands.
“Daydreaming’ opens with razor-sharp back alley chords and a streetwise snarl that has me all of a sudden thinking, “Is this ROCK N ROLL???”
Speaking of that… ‘Your Brown Eyes Look So Blue’ comes dangerously close to sounding like a forgotten outtake from the soundtrack to “Grease”. High School dancing itself right to the edge of the parking lot of kitsch to puke, but teetering there and miraculously feeling much better, thank you! It was a close one boys, but then again, some imminent peril makes albums and nights out exciting.
The track order on this album has a great arch to it. The way it builds to a cinematic centrepiece starting from the dreamy fade into focus intro of ‘This Is About A Girl Who Loves The Sun’. It builds wonderfully into widescreen guitar pop. The song takes you off the dusty and noisy summer city streets and into the cinema to catch your breath and “to stop taking it out on yourself” as Matthew reminds you in the lyrics.
The exuberance of ‘Number Seven’ kicks the cinema doors wide open and the sunlight comes streaming through. We’re in The Speedways’ neighbourhood now, and there’s a place they know that’s perfect for an afternoon drink. Matthew puts his arm around you on the walk and lets ya know that you’ll get by… it doesn’t matter who believes you.
Another standout track is the band next door sound of ‘Empty Pages’. Effortlessly cool and just the right riff for just the right lyrics (“On Halloween I couldn’t hide”… who hasn’t felt that way? Vulnerable and surrounded by Pound Shop devils and clowns) The song is the sound of hanging out. Pure and simple.
The whole set does an excellent job of establishing a recognisable sound while crossing gang lines into territories that may feel like defection. The early Petty and almost ‘50s stomp intro of ‘Had Enough This Time’ giving way to a sun shower of cascading guitar shimmer and a riff that steps right off a beach to join in? Really? It works. Really well.
The album closer, the rather magnificently titled ‘In A World Without Love It’s Hard To Stay Young’, is a perfect bookend. A pocket symphony of guitars that shine like the afternoon sun reflected off a Camaro’s dashboard. Its harmonies sonically answer Julian’s proclamation, “I thought I was the only one to feel this way, until…” with the easy embrace of a close pal.
No. You’re not the only one who does, Matthew. You just have a timeless way of expressing it. Your band is right there with you bringing these songs into brilliant focus as well.
Pretty happy that a band like this exists, making albums to this calibre.
It sounds awfully good with a cold one or a double too!
OH! Power Pop?
I ain’t getting’ into that! Whaddya think, I’m crazy?
Author: Rich Ragany