For those of you not in the know and who have a taste for all things that pop melodically, let me turn your attentions to the Franklin Castle label. Run by Mr. Linus of Hollywood, a masterful popmeister himself, the label is home to many a great musical artist, such as Kim Fox, the Mello Cads, and Margo Guryan. Franklin Castle is therefore a haven for some of the best tuneful pop music currently out there that you probably might not be hearing. And anyone worth their salt should own a copy of Linus of Hollywood’s Let Yourself Be Happy.
The label’s most recent acquisition is one Willie Wisely. Wisely, a sort of pop prodigy in his own right, has been bumping around the musical landscapes since the last decade. He’s run the gamut from scoring the Troma Films’ classic Tromeo and Juliet to working with Spike Lee on a 2000 TV commercial, and also appearing onscreen himself in Six Feet Under. Quite the busy man, to say the least. But we’re forgetting the music. His previous three albums, She, Turbosherbet, and Parlez-Vous Francais?, all met critical accolades.
For those who haven’t heard these discs, Franklin Castle has taken the best of She and Turbosherbet and boiled them down into the compilation Go!. So what you have here is not just another mere sampling and slapped-together highlight reel. What you have here is quite possibly some of the best overlooked pop of the last decade. Had I, a man who loves McCartneyesque, Rundrenesque, Fountains of Wayneish, Elvis Costello-like, Ismism pop, heard this stuff the first time around himself? No, I must say, sadly, I had not. But if you’re one of those discriminating listeners who also enjoys all those -esques, -likes, -ishs, and -isms, then put your money down right now for Go!.
But that’s not to say that Wisely’s own voice doesn’t come crashing through the scenery here (not that I think he’d mind at all being held up in comparison to those other artists). Indeed, on tracks like the fantastic “Raincan” and “Please Don’t Talk About Me (When I’m Gone)”, one wonders why this guy didn’t just completely take over the charts. But then again, the mid and late ‘90s weren’t the most receptive to music that wasn’t that tripe known as nu-metal or that didn’t come equipped with five guys dancing in unison. Ah well, everyone else’s loss at the time is now the world’s gain.
But it is unabashedly fun to pick out comparisons here. Every time I hear the opening chords of “Go!” itself, I’m reminded of the similarly strummed intro to Donna Summer’s “Hot Stuff”. “Home By Friday” sounds like a terrific song that Fastball wished they had written, and “Vagabond” would have easily fit perfectly on Fountains of Wayne’s Welcome Interstate Managers. But given the fact that these songs were released last decade, some easily before those other bands even got big on their own time, the real question becomes just who is influencing whom?
No matter in the end. Tracks like the witty “Loander My Guitar” will keep the toes tapping, and my ears have never heard anyone ever pull off a successful Steely Dan type of sound until I heard “Doorbells”. Seriously, this song could have been stuck on Everything Must Go and would have sounded perfect. I’d seriously like to hear Donald Fagen sing this song someday. Weird beyond words, but fantastic nonetheless.
Sooner than you think, Wisely will also be releasing his new album on Franklin Castle in the near future. So in the meantime, pick up Go!, give it more than a thousand spins (because I know you will after the first time you play it), and prepare yourself for one of the most exciting pop sounds out and about in the world today. Where Willie Wisely takes his most fascinating career next is anyone’s guess, but we’re all guaranteed that the ride itself will be most worth it where ever it may stop.