By Henry Lipput
Back in 2002 I began writing reviews for Lake Oconee Boomers’ older sister Pittsburgh Boomers because I wanted to turn people my age onto new music, new music that I liked, new music that would interest folks who grew up with AM radio and songs from Motown, the British Invasion, Stax, garage bands, and lots, lots of other stuff. I wanted to write for people who hadn’t bought a new album in 10 years or more and didn’t know where to start. I wanted to write about artists and groups that were influenced by the music we grew up with. And I promised myself that I would never write a bad review — that’s not what this column is about.
So here are two albums that have been released this year that I think you‘ll enjoy.
The North by Stars
I first learned about Stars in a review of their third album, the terrific Set Yourself On Fire. The review mentioned that the band had obviously been influenced by the equally obscure, Scottish cult band Prefab Sprout. That was enough for me.
It was true. I could hear the pop sounds of Prefab Sprout in the ultra-melodic tunes and the clever lyrics and especially in the vocals of Torquil Campbell (who obviously has spent a lot of time listening to Paddy McAloon the ‘Sprouts lead singer and songwriter) and the give and take between him and Amy Millan, the other singer in the band.
Since Set Yourself On Fire in 2004, Stars has released three albums: In The Bedroom After The War, Five Ghosts, and their newest disc The North. Although there are parts of the first two that I’ve enjoyed, The North is first disc since Set Yourself On Fire that is consistently good. The band sounds energized and the songs are solid. There are a couple of musical styles on the album, some fast songs, some slow songs, and one that uses a left-over Cure riff. You can start with the two best songs: the electronic opener “The Theory of Relativity” and the gorgeous ballad “The 400.” And then start back at the beginning.
Charmer by Aimee Mann
Aimee Mann showed up on most of our radar screens when, as part of ‘Til Tuesday, she appeared in that band’s video for “Voices Carry.” Despite the popularity of the video, the band didn’t sell many records and disbanded in 1986.
After ‘Til Tuesday and the first of her troubles with record companies, Mann came out of the gate swinging with Whatever, her wonderful solo debut album, in 1993. The album was produced by Jon Brion, a singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist who had just spent some time at the tail end of ‘Til Tuesday.
To my ears, Mann and Brion were a match made in pop heaven and the next few albums (I’m With Stupid, most of the Magnolia soundtrack, and some of Batchelor No. 2) were terrific. The next three albums had some good songs but, for me, there was something missing. (Is there a pattern here? I felt the same way about some of the Stars albums.)
All of which is leading up to my feelings about, Charmer, Mann’s new album. I am happy to report that it’s the first one since Batchelor No.2 where upon hearing it I did not ask “Where’s Jon Brion?” Charmer, which was produced by Paul Bryan, the bass player in Mann’s band, is a terrific batch of songs that are performed with confidence and chops. Aimee Mann sounds great and it’s a return to form — and a terrific form it is.
Be sure to check out next’s month’s Top 5 of 2012. Both of these albums have already found a place on that list..