Ric Menck has been in a lot of shimmering and sugarcoated pop bands including Choo Choo Train and the Springfields and others. He has also worked with Matthew Sweet and toured with the pop guru on several occasions. But along with Paul Chastain, he is best known for the pop nugget manufacturers called Velvet Crush, whose Teenage Symphonies to God is still a personal favorite. In 1996, Menck’s various side projects were fused for an album of rarities and strong pop gems. Now, nearly a decade later, Menck has returned to put the finishing touches on this album, including songs never been on CD or anywhere else for that matter. The result is a collection of tunes that flow beautifully despite the mish-mash, recalling Suede’s Sci-Fi Lullabies.
Beginning this album is a lovely “Perfect Day”, which has Menck giving his best Roger McGuinn impression on the jangle-like, tambourine-heavy, Byrdsian psychedelic pop. The guitars and drums work in unison to make you think you’re reliving flower power and all that jazz. In the liner notes, Menck gives you the background behind each song. On this one he wanted to mix “Rain” by the Beatles with something like the Church. And, well, he succeeded tremendously. But it’s the simplicity of the arrangement, tighter than a drum, which makes you an instant believer. “The Bicycle Song” is another quality pop rock tune that fits on most college campus radio playlists. The bridge, although far too short, is possibly the song’s highlight. The way each number is crafted would give the likes of Tom Petty a serious run for his money.
Previously speaking of ‘60s bands, a cover of the Hollies’ “Clown” is offered but seems to basically fall flat too early, making one suspect it was an idea best left on the cutting room floor. However, “Wishing on a Star” is sweet to a fault, recalling current under-the-radar pop bands like Jeremy. Menck is singing as if he’s a timid bull in a china shop, not trying to disrupt anything with his dreamy, lullaby vocals. “Sunflower” tends to level out the album though—an average tune with above average results. It also possesses a summer driving Beach Boys flavor. A notable departure, though, is the brilliant “Are We Gonna Be Alright”, a track you know immediately rises heads and shoulders above everything else thus far. The basic bass line, acoustic strumming, and harmonies have this song flowing from the get-go. Penned by Matthew Sweet but never found on any of his albums, Menck takes it and hits the ground running. But its biggest problem is how it just dies without any fanfare.
After a brisk run through of the pop rocker “Big Blue Buzz”, Menck throws a large curve into the record. A cover of Primal Scream’s “Tomorrow Ends Today”. Citing his love for Ver Scream’s Bobby Gillespie, Menck gives this number a rather cavity-inducing performance as bands like the Wondermints comes to mind despite the guitar riffs bleeding through the track. Power pop at its finest! Side two (yes, remember, records did exist!) begins with the adorable little nugget entitled “Wonder”, which is, well, wonderful from top to bottom. Most of these songs are the type where you know where it’s heading, but that’s part of the fun not to mention the craftsmanship of each effort. What is surprising is the way the song came about—a spat with Aimee Mann circa Til Tuesday.
The homestretch of this 16-song album contains a cover of the Pastels’ “Million Tears”, one which definitely fits in with Brit power pop quite clearly—the weaving guitar and bass line over a steady back beat. “Reachin’ for the Stars” is a pre-Velvet Crush tune despite Chastain and Menck collaborating on it. As Menck mentions, it definitely sticks in your head but also carries with it a certain pop folk mold à la Belle and Sebastian. The jangle returns for a toe-tapping, McCartney-esque head swivel bonanza on “Tranquil”, a cover by another Glaswegian band called the Clouds. Added to this is a Syd Barrett cover of “Golden Hair”, a song Menck gives a distant, faux British flavor to, paying too much homage to its creator at the song’s expense. However, after listening to this album, it’s depressing to think one of the best albums of 2004 was made nearly a decade ago.
// Notes from the Road
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