One of the many fascinating discoveries one finds when diving into the sprawling 4CD set Nuggets, Vol. 2: Original Artyfacts from the British Empire and Beyond is in the “beyond” part. Everybody knows what British pop music of that sounds like (even though it’s a wonderfully varied lot), but it’s the selections from the other countries in which the real gems lie. The Mops‘ delightfully cracked “I’m Just a Mops” from Japan; Los Chijuas‘ “Changing the Colors of Life” from Mexico; and Sweden’s Tages, whose “I Read You Like an Open Book” mixes Who-like punch with a dash of proto-prog and a winning accessibility to rival ABBA – these are just a few of the fascinating discoveries.
And what makes them so interesting is the way that the bands took forms familiar to us in North America and the UK, and then applied – deliberately or organically; it really doesn’t matter – their own local flavor. It’s similar to what the Beatles and other British groups did in assimilating American rock, girl-group sounds and r&b though their own filters, and then giving it back to us in a way that truly was fresh and new.
But of course that would happen, you’re thinking. Of course: musicians in a given country or culture would bring a different sensibility to a pop style, even if they didn’t mean to do so. Right?
Up until now, I’d say yes. When, in the early 1990s, Japan’s Flying Elephants tried to make music in the style of The Beatles, it came out sounding, well, like a Japanese Beatles (as opposed to Japanese beetles; sorry). Conversely, a decade earlier when Charlotte North Carolina’s Spongetones set out to do the same thing with their orignal songs, the results sounded like great outtakes from Something New and Revolver. For them, it worked.
Which, finally, brings me to the exception that just might prove the rule. A trio based in Budapest, Hungary called The Poster Boy has released Melody, a pop album the classic American/British pop mold. While the drummer and lyricist (Michael Zwecker) is an American, the dual front men (as described in the press release accompanying my review copy of Melody) are Imre Poniklo and Noel R. Mayer, both Hungarians. The latter two do the singing, but listening to Melody, one wold never suspect that the band wasn’t from somewhere in America’s heartland. Or England. Or at least L.A.
The title track on Melody features chiming Rickenbacker tones, and gentle, dual-lead harmony vocals that recall The Searchers, The La’s or Belle and Sebastian; it’s a transcendentally beautiful song worthy of its title (though it is, in the fine pop tradition, about a girl). It’s so damn good, in fact, that if Melody were a one-sided single, you’d need it.
“Pale Blue Eyes” is an original tune, not the Velvet Underground song. It’s an insistent yet plaintive and melancholy number. While the rhythm guitar and snare propel the song forward hypnotically, the bass shifts subtly under them; it’s almost dream-pop, but with a higher melodic quotient. “Portland Head Light” kicks off sounding like a lo-fi rethinking of T. Rex, but then it explodes into a joyous pop extravaganza.
“Traction” mines the style of The La’s again, but speeds things up and adds in a modern slant; even with the handclaps, it’s a timeless-sounding number. “It’s Over” is featured twice on Melody; the first version starts with a sultry, sexy ballad, weds a Small Faces approach to it, and applies female vocal choruses. The result is a modern take on Northern Soul. The outro features some truly soulful Memphis-styled horn work.
“Once” evokes the Summer of Love, British-style, right down to the piano chording and la-la-la backing vocals. It could easily be a long-lost World Party track, but instead it’s merely another in the broken string of lovely pop songs on Melody. “Only a Test” is a departure, starting with an exotic and vaguely Eastern feel; it unfolds into an alternately yearning/rocking song reminiscent of Crowded House circa Together Alone. The lovely, brief “Diffraction” is the sole cut on Melody built around an acoustic guitar. The album closes with an alternate mix of “It’s Over,” featuring Viki Singh on lead vocals. Her voice wrings even more emotion out of the tune. It’s not fair to compare the two versions; you need both.
Melody is immediately short-listed for Musoscribe’s Best Album of 2012. Check back in late December.
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