The Breakup Society, James at 35

The Breakup Society, James at 35

In the liner notes to Incesticide, St. Kurt of Aberdeen, in his quest for ever more refined mortification to maintain his state of rock-star holiness, wrote the following comment (one assumes he intended it to be self-lacerating), “I’ll be the first to admit that we’re the 90s version of Cheap Trick…” Oh, really? He wished. Nirvana’s songs had half the brains, a quarter of the irony, and none of the joy or charm of Rick Nielsen’s; by extension, he implied that power pop is easy, vapid, or possibly musically impure (gasp!), as if ripping Zeppelin, Sabbath, and ABBA (allegedly) isn’t….

I bring all this up because James at 35 makes me yearn for those times in which power pop ruled the land as the reigning musical taste — it’s one of most literate, classic-and-live-sounding records I’ve heard in a damned long time, with song after song (courtesy of singer and guitarist Ed Masley) blasting out of the speakers with all the authority of Moses descending from Mount Sinai. Starting with the cheeky lament of “Robin Zander” (“Every girl I ever had a crush on had a bigger crush on you / Robin Zander, Robin Zander / They’d chew upon their pencils reading Tiger Beat / Yeah, the girls were sweet on you”), the record covers confusion about the opposite sex (“Introduction to Girls,” “She Doesn’t Like That Anymore,” “She’s Been Using Words Like Hurt Again”), anticipatory regret (the Rubber Soul-like bounce of “She Doesn’t Know She’s Not Supposed to Like Me Yet”), post-trauma regret and longing (“The Summer of Joycelynn May” and “I Could Put You Behind Me,” as haunting as anything I’ve heard from Wilco recently), obsessive, petty squabbling over nothing (the hilarious “Favorite Shorts”) — in short, the full range of topics in the Book of Love is represented faithfully (not that the subject can ever be exhausted, mind you). You’ll find the Breakup Society in the same quadrant as the Young Fresh Fellows, the Kinks, Elvis Costello, the Fab Four, the Beach Boys, etc., etc., with a hefty dose of electric Neil Young in the guise of Sean Lally’s solos.

But this album is more than about celebrating past worthies; the band members tear through these songs as if their lives depended it. The majestic, delirious stomp of “I Don’t Give a Damn About the Sun,” the elegiac Pet Sounds nod of “Never Wanted to Be Your Disappointment,” and the tangy effusion of the album closer “He Wants His World Back (Baby)” remind me of why I ever listened to rock’n’roll in the first place — put your head between the speakers, surf on that titanic wave of energy, attitude, and anguish, and the world is yours for all of two and a half minutes. It’s a beautiful thing.

(Get Hip Records -- Columbus & Prebles Aves., Pittsburgh, PA. 15233; http://www.gethip.com/; The Breakup Society -- http://www.thebreakupsociety.com/)
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Review by . Review posted Saturday, October 1st, 2005. Filed under Reviews.

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