Aaron Ave. Records, 2010
REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 03/25/2011
Power pop as a genre dates from roughly 1964 and a certain mop-topped quartet from Liverpool. Since then, of course, its lineage has become considerably muddied and branched as new wave and hair metal and who knows what else have had their day, but the essence of power pop—concise, guitar-driven, energetic tunes—has lived on in the dreams of a thousand thousand players and singers.
One of those thousand thousand is Mr. Lannie Flowers, and he learned the lessons of the early masters well—or at least, that’s the logical assumption to reach after a few spins with a disc that sounds like nothing quite so much as George Harrison and Mick Jagger cutting a side project circa 1965.
And yes, I’m dead serious with that comparison. Vocally, Flowers bears a notable resemblance to Sir Mick, pleasantly rough around the edges and sassy in the way he extends vowels and adds a little sneer to certain lines. His guitar work is a bit more varied, but it’s eminently tuneful and on several tracks (especially the late-album one-two punch of “Everyone” and “Where Does Love Go”) features the sort of extended, “weeping” lines that became Harrison’s trademark.
Specific antecedents aside, at its core
Circles consists of ringing, melodic, harmony-rich, traditionalist power pop—perhaps not the most polished or original I’ve ever heard, but that’s really not the point. The point is, power pop is a genre that, when well-executed, is uniquely entertaining and uplifting, and Lannie Flowers is an artist who executes it beautifully.
As for the songs themselves, there are 15, of which 14 fall between 2:41 and 3:46 in length; it’s the classic get-in-verse-chorus-verse-chorus-get-out approach, which just adds to the potency of righteously celebratory tunes like “Turn Up Your Radio” (which sounds exactly like you would want it to). To his credit, Flowers delves beneath the surface on tunes like the title track, “Around The World” and “Think It Over,” layering his confections with a searching, thoughtful bent.
Interestingly, Flowers’ affection for mid-60s Stones comes out mostly on ballads like “Favorite Song” and the aforementioned “Everyone,” either one of which would have been at home on Out Of My Head or December’s Children. The darker edge the Stones have often evidenced also comes out on simpler, edgy tunes like “C’mon Over.”
Cliches do pop up on occasion—“All Dressed Up” opens with a reference to those time-honored staples “Fast cars and fast women”—but “Dressed” is also a perfect example of how Flowers counterbalances this tendency with strong arrangements, delivering a mid-tempo number whose coiled energy releases at the choruses.
One of the many neat tricks Flowers pulls off here is making everyone of these tunes sound like they were played live in the studio by a four- or five-piece band, when in fact he handles every element of these densely packed tracks –guitar, bass, keyboards, lead and background vocals—with the exception of drums, manned by his co-producer Matt Key.
There’s something about the simplicity of power pop as a musical form that bands from the Beatles to Fountains Of Wayne have recognized as almost immeasurably potent. The combination of punch, melody and a dash of wit and intelligence in the lyrics can be exhilarating.
Circles is a musical love letter to the power pop genre from a first-rate player and songwriter. Two spins of this album and you won’t be able to get these songs out of your head—and what’s more, you won’t want to.
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