Reviewing your friends’ and acquaintences’ CDs is often a tricky thing. It’s great when their disc turns out to be a wonderful event, but other times, when the music isn’t quite up to snuff or isn’t as good as you may have hoped, what do you say? Probably most of us often pay a kind compliment and then move along, hoping our pals won’t come back to us later on with someone and else and point out the fact that we said yes, indeed their tunes were good. Such a taxing ordeal.
So here we are with Popland’s disc Action! For those of you who don’t know, Popland is none other than PopMatters’ very own Kevin Mathews, along with Tim Nolan and Ray Aziz. I first became familiar with Kevin’s pop music reviews through the Fufkin.com site, where I am also a contributor. I checked out his website, the Power of Pop and then got knee-deep in Mathews’ musings over here on our beloved site. So I have to say I was honestly surprised when I found out that Popland was Kevin’s band.
Hopefully by now, Mr. Mathews has sweat his fair share of bullets (unless of course he just skipped to this point—no cheating, Kev) over wondering what I think of his music, especially after that opening paragraph. Well, let me just say that Kevin’s brand of music comes as no surprise to me. For someone who loves pop music (and that’s “pop music” in the most respectable sense of the term, not “pop” as in “poop”) as much as I know Kevin does, his own 11 tunes included within Action are a very nice mix of all sorts of great pop, ranging from garage-like rave ups to more sentimental and emotional singer/songwriter fare. Plus the CD sports some pretty damn cool sleeve art from head to toe.
First, I want to talk about my most favorite cuts here. These would be “Dumb Thing”, “Hold On”, and “. . . To You?” “Dumb Thing” has one of the catchiest pop rock melodies I’ve heard all year long. It’s one of those songs I wished I had penned, and honestly reminds me of a couple of things I have come up with in the past on a good day. Great chords, a great bridge, and one of those melodies that kills you the first time you hear it and brings you to your knees, needing to hear it a million more times.
“Hold On” kicks off with a snarled “yeah”, three great chords, some tight ‘n loose drums (courtesy of Aziz”, and a knotty, funky bass line thanks to Mr. Nolan. And what a bass solo! Yeesh. Short and sweet. Or as my idol Mr. Lou Reed would say, “short and delicious”. And then there’s “. . . To You?” which I swear sounds like a fucking great update of “Sympathy for The Devil”. Nice piano, great vocals, and a whole gospel groove going onthat seems straight out of left field but caps off the album perfectly. I dig it. In between and all around these great tunes are other tight numbers like “The Hip Song” that features Mathews’ great voice doing a double lead thing while he also contributes some terrific backing vocals. Some more great piano work in this one, too. Then there’s the touching “Whatever . . .” that uncovers some raw emotions, the floating “Feel the Same Way”, and ” . . . Happened . . . ” which sounds like some refugee from either the mid-‘70s or early ‘80s. Doesn’t matter, really. It would work in either time effectively, and sounds terrific through and through. The electric piano part reminds me a bit of the one from “James” on Billy Joel’s Turnstiles album, although that weird choir part that comes out of nowhere (Is that a synth choir? If so, it sounds absolutely gorgeous.) makes me think of . . . well, I don’t know. But I like it all just the same.
Kevin’s own guitar work is straight to the point. No notes wasted, no obnoxious solos, nothing out of place. Yet at the same time it’s loose enough to sound casual and “unrehearsed” (as in, it sounds spontaneous and rockin’ a-plenty). So, dammit, count me in as a fan of Popland. Action was quite the pleasant surprise, but at the same time I guess I should have known that Mathews would have created something so likable, given the general huge list of great music that he tends to enjoy and review. So here’s to you, Kevin, on a job well done. I look forward to hearing more. Indeed, you guys and gals out there should bend an ear to these sounds as well.