Allright, I might get in trouble here. This was assigned as a capsule review, but due to my own obsession with power pop (I’ve stated before that it’s my favorite genre of music), especially the original stuff (around 1978 to, say, 1981; it’s difficult to pinpoint due to earlier, essential bands like the Raspberries, Big Star, Cheap Trick, and so forth), I don’t see any way I can condense this into 150 words or less.
In the annals of power pop, any fan knows Shoes, 20/20, Pezband, Rubinoos, Plimsouls, and our British friends like (early) Joe Jackson, (early) Nick Lowe, and anything that’s appeared on Rhino’s terribly compiled and often confusing (Fotomaker? Piper? Earthquake?) DIY series, but they probably don’t know Sorrows. In 1980, they released an absolutely imperative album called Teenage Heartbreak; Bad Times Good Times appears to be a reissue of that album, with some extra live recordings, possible b-sides and more tacked on. However, a note on the back of the liners says this is not a reissue, but a re-recording of that album. What’s so confounding is that it sounds exactly like the original, meaning they’d have to reproduce the recording in every single way; also, the guys apparently haven’t aged in 30 years. My research on the truth has proved fruitless, but the important thing is that everything on here, original, live, new, or unreleased is near perfect, and since the original album has apparently never been released on CD, this is damn good enough.
One of the gems here, and I mean gems, is the title track, which should be recognized as an anthem ranking alongside 20/20’s “Yellow Pills” and Pezband’s “Baby It’s Cold Outside”. The influence of Shoes is certainly there, but the melody is more straightforward. The tragedy of this song being overlooked is huge; it’s a perfect ten. “Can’t You Tell a Lie?” gives us pure rock ‘n’ roll riffs and a melodic chorus straight out of the playbooks written by the genre’s kings, recalling the Raspberries’ formula before Eric Carmen decided gooey, embarassing treacle was his desired direction. The influence of Big Star and the Raspberries is all over the place, not to mention psychedelic rock, paisley underground, and the pure rock ‘n’ roll of the 1950s. They take some serious chances, as in “She Comes and Goes”, blending the sounds of the Plimsouls and Big Star, a thing of beauty that suddenly blasts into near glam-rock but still works perfectly. “Can’t Go Back” is yet another forgotten classic, a power pop ballad with a bit of a Phil Seymour feel (and we’re talking Seymour’s debut, not his sophomore atrocity) that delivers melodies so heavenly, it’s nearly inimitable.
A big surprise is a cover of Carole King’s “Chains” (live at CBGB), a surprisingly good recording that’s raucous as hell and would’ve been glorious to see live. Actually, it was a Carole King/Gerry Goffin collaboration, written in or around 1962 for the Cookies, later covered by The Beatles, the kings (no pun intended) of stealing American music, for their ever so important Please Please Me LP in 1963. Carole went on to record it solo around 1980, and here, it is solely credited to her. However, I’d never guess in my life that it was a King/Goffin composition, taken from the performances by the Cookies, the Beatles, or King alone.
Some tracks aren’t so successful, but I’m not going to discuss them because this album (or whatever it is) is so essential that any misses are completely forgivable. The key thing is that they try new things, and are in fact one of the most versatile of all the power pop bands of the era. O, I must bemoan, I was just born too late! Bad Times Good Times most likely describes the state of the band, how it’s all up and down, how their second album is just gone, and the fact that they never achieved the status they so deserved. Nevertheless, there are no “bad times” on this disc, and even if you have the original vinyl (like I do, of course!), you need to get this now.
Oh, and for all the critics of critics out there, forgive me for not filling this review up with the band’s history, personnel, or just pulling things straight from the press kit. Here you go: they were formed out of the Poppees, a highly Beatlesque and British Invasion-influenced pop band of the earlier ‘70s. Good enough?
Sometimes you just need to toss away any imagined critical obligations and implore people to just enjoy the music—probably for the first time.
// Notes from the Road
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