Some friends and I were recently talking music (what else is new?), one of us mentioned Power Pop, and someone else not familiar with that genre asked what that was. I muttered something about the combination of sweet vocal melodies and barre chords, somebody else starting dropping names of bands who played in the style . . . But if we really wanted to make our friend understand Power Pop, we should have just played him some songs by The Shoes. Better yet, we should have directed him to buy Double Exposure, the new 2-CD collection of Shoes demos. The 30 tracks are workbook recordings of songs that would appear on the band's two seminal albums from the late 70s/early 80s, Present Tense and Tongue Twister. The Shoes had every right to be as popular as Cheap Trick, the Cars, et al, but somehow they never scored any hits (at least, to my knowledge). Their melodies are sing-songy but with just enough of an edge to them – and the backing tracks are all power chords and sharp hooks. It's like Cheap Trick but more introspective, the Cars but not as slick – four shy and nondescript guys from the Midwest who had a love of melodic music and a knack for creating great pop songs. It had been a long time since I'd listened to The Shoes (prior to getting this set), and I have been listening to a lot of Guided by Voices of late; hearing these demos tells me that Robert Pollard studied this band closely when forming his melodic sensibilities and his band's sound. The Shoes songs make me feel like I'm at the roller rink on a Friday night, slow dancing with my new girl, both of us with feathered hair and me with a comb in my back pocket. But this is not novelty music; it is some of the best Power Pop you'll ever hear. These demos, while not vastly different than the versions of the songs that appeared on the official records, are just raw enough to make them worth hearing for a Shoes fan. Double Exposure in on the Black Vinyl label, and despite being a new release is pretty hard to get your hands on. Make the effort.
The Pop Project TGIF CD-EP (popproject.com) With this release, blogger/drummer Adam Kempa and his pals gather to praise obscure singer-songwriter Jesse Frederick. But their reverence is not directed at his sole 1971 Bearsville LP, nor the pair of unreleased follow-ups, but at Frederick’s more widely-heard contributions to the world of eighties sitcom themes. It’s a intriguing instance of reclaiming the craft (or art, if you will) from a place of intentional invisibility, and from the included “making-of” featurelette you can tell the band had a blast making it happen. I confess I’ve never watched an episode of Family Matters, Full House or Step By Step (Perfect Strangers I think I saw once), and none of these under-two-minute theme song covers are familiar, but the commercial craftsmanship of the songwriting is apparent and nicely realized in these short, sweet and very upbeat performances. Check the website for more about the Pop Project, Jesse Frederick and the difficulties of getting a mechanical license to cover these tunes. You probably need to have watched these shows a lot at an early age to react viscerally to hearing them remade, but either way it’s an endearing concept.