This spring, there’s good news for intelligent power-pop fans the world over: The Mockers are back. The Mockers are one of those rare bands that marry smart lyrics with pleasantly melodic power-pop—and abundant proof of that is in evidence on their third (and arguably best) studio release, The Lonesome Death of Electric Campfire. These twelve new songs present a wide range of musical moods in impressive style.
While some bands suffer from staleness and sameness of sound, The Mockers avoid this trap. With two quality songwriters on hand (Seth Gordon and Tony Leventhal), there’s always a healthy variety of song styles. Gordon has written the majority of these new songs (eight are his, four are Leventhal’s). Additionally, the variety is enhanced by the fact that there are two different top-notch producers at work here (Robbie Rist and Mitch Easter)—with very different sound styles.
Joining Leventhal (vocals, bass) and Gordon (vocals, rhythm guitar, keyboards) as The Mockers this time around are the powerfully talented actor / musician / producer / general wunderkind Robbie Rist (vocals, lead guitar, keyboards) and—back from his work on Brian Wilson Presents Smile—the impressive Nelson Bragg (vocals, drums, percussion). There’s also a host of talented guest musicians who join these four on various tracks.
The CD opens with the up-tempo rock of “Real Enough For Me”, an infectious but brief little song about an online relationship. It does a great job of making the case for the magic of such internet dalliances:
“I don’t know what real life is, /
Or what it’s supposed to be, /
I only know how you make me feel, /
And that’s real enough for me, /
It isn’t ones and zeros, /
A whisper to a screen, /
The sound of drums from you to me.”
“Doin’ Time” is a tuneful modern lament of a corporate pawn going crazy while caught up in the American dream turned nightmare, an owned man trying to remember what this runaround’s all about:
“Now I do the commute in my three-piece suit, /
With a laptop open, on the cell phone talking, /
And I wish I could find a way out of this mine, /
Even though I’m on the outside, /
I’m still doing . . . Doin’ time.”
There’s a pleasant reunion afoot in “Something New”, which has that typical Mitch Easter lush production sound to it (similar in spots to the work Easter has done with George Usher). Here something old is something new, as our narrator meets someone they know they always knew.
“Straight In The Eyes” is an outright plea for truth and honesty from a sad liar incapable of providing that direct eye contact asked for, and features trumpet from Probyn Gregory, backing vox from Bill Holmes and saxophone from Frankie Mooney. Guitars and harmonies drive “You Can Call Me”, which first chides a friend who tends to exaggerate matters (“you make a scratch a tumor”), but ultimately ends with forgiveness (“You know it kills me, when I see all these stupid things haunt you, / It’s still just me, and I’ve always understood”).
Things take on a harder-rocking edge with the charming “Mola, Guay, OK”. The Mockers have a big following in Spain (where this CD is being released), and this song is a melodic wink and a nod to the language barriers sometimes encountered there. As Seth Gordon relates it:
“I learn the phrases and I pick the best ones, / From what I hear and read, /
And even though I don’t know what I’m saying, /
They think I’m from Valladolid. /
When I’m lost in the conversation, / And I don’t know what to say, /
I just nod my head and I tell them /
Mola, guay, ok.”
“Little Girl Blue” is a Beatle-esque ditty from Mr. Leventhal, chock-full of jangly guitars and sweet harmonies, yet with acid lyrics delivered to a self-righteous child of 42.
Mr. Gordon pokes some tuneful fun at the mad world we live in with “Bullets And Babies” (“it’s funny what people will leave behind”).
The CD features a bonus video of the Mockers’ rocking political anthem for the new millennium “The Emperor Strikes Out Again”. Led by Robbie Rist’s high-energy guitars, Phil Parlapiano on horns and Riel Gallagher on sax, there’s a pleasant Ramones-like urgency, as the band takes aim at our new Napoleon: “Cowboy George on his throne, / Shooting off your guns and your mouth on the ranch, / Pissing off the world from Mozambique to France, / Now we’re stuck on our own”. Never has dissent been so darn catchy—and there’s a nice little bow to “Taxman” at the song’s end, with backing vox mentions of Spain’s Senor Aznar and England’s Mr. Blair.
The Mockers do get around to some cheeky mocking in “(Stuck In) New York In The Summertime”, a thinly-veiled response to Fountains of Wayne’s “Valley Winter Song”. While the FOW song assured Annie that winter soon would give way to spring, this folksy ballad tells Nessy that the hot, humid NYC summer will eventually relinquish its hold to Fall. There’s advantage discovered being stuck in the city, however, as the city becomes a deserted paradise: “They’ve left on a weekend exodus, / For the townships of Bridgehampton, south, east and west, / Nessy we can breath now despite the mugginess, / We’re stuck in New York in the summertime”.
In an album full of sweet songs, one of the strongest is the Penny Lane-ish “Willoughby Station”. This cleverly arranged song touts the idyllic final destination of Willoughby Station on a pleasant musical train ride that features Morley Bartnoff on piano, Probyn Gregory on horns and Derrick Anderson on backing vocals.
The CD closes with the sweet love ballad “A Girl I’ve Never Met”. Here we’re assured that nothing’s accidental, that things are connected from lives that came long before: “I’ll try hard to remember, / But I know I won’t forget, / A girl I’ve always known, / Is a girl I’ve never met”.
This is smart power pop from a tight band, expertly executed and well-produced. In addition, the CD comes packaged as though it were a dime-store novel from another era, with a 28-page booklet that offers lyrics in both Spanish and English (and the aforementioned video bonus).
Leventhal, Gordon, Rist and Bragg really deliver the power-pop goods in a big way here, building on any number of past influences with a sound that’s hook-laden and reassuringly familiar without being derivative. If you liked The Mockers’ previous albums, you’ll really love The Lonesome Death Of Electric Campfire. This is the band’s best effort yet, twelve strong songs with no filler, and a real testament as to how often the major labels miss out on some very good music nowadays.