The sexually frustrated power-popper is one of the great rock archetypes, from Lennon and McCartney to Matthew Sweet and Brendan Benson. On his band the Exports’ third full-length, Back in Black, Archie Powell joins the continually expanding fraternity of sensitive guys who know their way around an earworm of a hook or a catchy melody, but still just don’t know about girls. When we last left Powell, on “Only So Much You Can Do”, the standout closer on 2012’s breakthrough Great Ideas In Action, he was lamenting the life of a broke-ass touring band. That turns out to be small potatoes compared with the lady troubles befalling him on Back in Black. He’s in a dark place, and that album title’s not an AC/DC-style nose-thumb to the hangman… a point the band makes abundantly clear on the opening yowl, “Everything’s Fucked”.
Things barely get better from there, but the band sounds great, capturing a foreboding sense of dread and dis-ease throughout the album, while still turning in catchy pop songs and hooks galore, as on “Scary Dream” and “Tattoo On My Brain”. Powell, for his part, rants and raves with the best of them, the Costellovian syllables pouring out of him as his frustrations mount (though the howled chorus of “Lean” may earn him a cease-and-desist fax from Black Francis): On “I’m Gonna Lose It” he fumes, “What’s a guy to do? I’d kill for just one night with you!” while elsewhere girl problems make him “wanna drink a fifth and fucking jump off a bridge.” Powell finally reaches the end of his rope on the cathartic 90-second punk blast “Mambo No. 9”, before coming to what passes for a happy ending on the closing “Everything’s Cool”: “You coulda just had me be your dog… all the things I woulda done for you, but you never asked… but everything’s cool.” Call it catnip for power pop fans—a concept about the Friend Zone.