When a band compares itself to Rick Springfield of all people, well it means that it either has a sense of humor or a lot of intestinal fortitude. For Boston group Waltham, it also seems to know that, well, it sounds a lot like the “Jessie’s Girl” singer. The Boston quintet, who has taken its name from its hometown on the outskirts of Beantown, is fronted by Frank Pino but this is a band in every sense of the word. The leadoff track is a catchy and well-crafted number entitled “Cheryl (Come and Take a Ride)” which could fit perfectly on a mix tape of Cheap Trick, Joe Jackson, the Knack, and XTC circa “Making Plans for Nigel”. It has all that late ‘70s and early ‘80s feel with the hook-riddled guitars from the tandem of Tony Monaco and Craig Allen and a drum-driven chorus by Mikey Rorick, who you can envision dressed to the nines a la Blondie’s Clem Burke. Add to that the fact it’s not too slick or over-produced and you have a very strong opener.
Ditto for “So Lonely” with more of the same, although this one has a definite summer driving feeling that resembles Weezer without the thick slabs of riffs, just a great series of smart, head-bobbing pop chops that you feel the ageless youthful need to crank the volume for, if only for a few seconds. Perhaps the finest thing about the track is its momentum, opting to omit the bridge so the verses keep the energy up. “Joanne” is tamer but still has some bite to its power pop bark that might make a few want to start jumping on the spot. Waltham might have grown up on these early ‘80s rock songs and have listened to nothing but since then, especially considering the mid-tempo pop nugget “Call Me Back” with its infectious and contagious chorus, some simple but solid guitar work, and a tight rhythm section. At this point in the album they’re oddly enough four for four.
And now make that five for five with the rock-oriented “You Gotta Let Me In” which could be mistaken for another nugget by the Canadian bands Odds circa Neopolitan. Sweet yet not too sugar-coated, Waltham has tapped into something that is a rarity these days, taking all the great traits of bands before but giving them a fresh perspective. The harmonies are also another asset that never grows old or tired. The lone knock on the tune is the rather bland bridge featuring a tired guitar solo, albeit a brief one that isn’t too painful. The lone song that comes off as forced is the tightly pressed pop of “Be With Me” that relies more on a synth-like sound that resembles a rocking, rollicking version of the Cars. “Don’t Say It’s Too Late” fares better with a winding, weaving guitar pattern and the delayed harmonies give it a different spin than the previous songs. The chorus is still solid but they test the waters in the verses, down-shifting the tempo before picking it up again.
It’s rare that an album like this has yet to hit a huge sonic pothole, but Waltham avoids them at all costs on the mid-tempo mastery of “Back to You”, evoking images of thin black leather ties and well-dressed bands like Blondie and the Romantics. “Nicole” is that pothole though, with a bland approach that seems to downplay the band’s strengths, opting for a slower mid-tempo kind of sludge whose chorus doesn’t compensate much for it. It seamlessly goes into “Hopeless”, another grin-inducing tune that takes a while to get off the ground, but it is well worth the wait with the drumming propelling the song forward. Waltham hits the listener over the head, producing one stellar tune after another that has no padding or production values tainting it.
A 45-minute DVD is also included, but you’ll be hard pressed to get around to it after listening to the album again and again and again and…
// Notes from the Road
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