“Mixing Pop and Politics he asks me what the use is..” Billy Bragg sings on the wonderful Waiting for the Great Leap Forward. It’s a question that the Posies must have asked themselves before releasing Every Kind Of Light.
After an eight year break, Ken Stringfellow and Jon Auer have dusted off their guitars and placed solo careers on hold. Taken time off from their day jobs, REM, Big Star, Ben Folds and bashed out a set of power pop nuggets under the Posies banner. With a new rhythm section, drummer Darius Minwalla and bassist Matt Harris they spent an economical 21 days writing and recording the LP.
On previous releases The Posies have always dealt with affairs of the heart, on Every Kind Of Light they have shifted their focus onto US politics and a certain Mr Bush. Maybe it’s the time than Ken Stringfellow has spent in the REM camp or just their natural reaction to the state of the union.
The focus of the lyrics may have changed, but musically the Posies are on familiar ground. Teenage Fanclub, The Raspberries and Big Star still loom large in the Posies record collections. Crunchy, scuffed up guitars, blissful harmonies and wishful melodies are the order of the day. Imagine The Beatles locked in a garage with Mudhoney doing cover version of The Hollies and you’re almost there.
The twin modes of attack are the killer riff and the gentle finger picked melody. The opening It’s Great To Be Here Again pursues the riff method. The riff mixes company with some beautiful organ sounds and those heavenly harmonies. Conversations, opens with a pretty chiming intro before the guitars storm in and thrash about like a child in a swimming pool.
The love songs work better than the political material. Love Comes is anchored to some wonderful piano playing, The Last Crawl is a gem, a sparkling refrain. It starts with a heartbeat drums and bubbling bass. The guitars sting like tears reflected in the bar room mirror and empty vodka glasses.
Sweethearts of Rodeo Drive is a countrified lament for an America lost to consumerism. Guitars both acoustic and electric glide on a sweet shuffling rhythm. It’s the sound of The Byrds locked inside a shopping mall spinning out on a sugar rush. The lyric “keep on keeping it real” are a plea, a rallying cry against the dumbing down of US culture. A barricade of melody against a Starbucks on every corner and a Republican in the Whitehouse. The Posies attempts to engage with US politics are to be applauded. It’s such a pity that the songs don’t convince. They lack the lyrical skill, depth and style of a Springsteen or Dylan.
The lyrics are too ambiguous, without some digging on the net I would never have picked apart the metaphors at the centre of some of the songs. Where it may sound like a rejection of a lover on certain tracks, it’s really a rejection of the current US government.
I thought the aim of political songwriting was to inform and engage. When you wrap the message in so many layers of meaning it loses its impact. Green Day’s American Idiot is a much more effective weapon in the battle for hearts and minds than this.
A+ for the love songs. The Posies still know how to deal with the sigh of a broken heart. C- for the politics. They need to sharpen those quills if they want to cut it as political commentators.