Every summer, I fall in love with a power pop album. This is this year’s model, a crunchy 43 minutes of wonder and wistfulness and wit. It ain’t perfect, but that’s what makes me love it even more.
Saul Zonana writes all the songs and sings all the songs and plays several instruments on all the songs and produces all the songs except the three songs produced by Adrian Belew. His songs are about things like silver jackets warding off evil and lost love and found love, but mostly about found love and lost love. Oh, and about being seriously depressed. There are a lot of songs about that, too.
The outlier here is the significant track, “Hey Now (Sideways Down)”, a spoken-word piece about the pervasive effects of the Iraq war on people here in America, framed by blues-metal pop riffs. It’s not as clever as it thinks it is, with Belew’s production too cutesy and his solos curiously muted, emotionally. But I agree with the ideas that the war sucks and that military culture gets its hooks into people when they’re just kids, so I like it anyway.
I won’t say that Zonana is a lyrical genius, but he’s a damned good songwriter who uses melancholy to fuel his happy songs and silliness to keep the sad ones from imploding. “What We Are”, with its lyrics about being dumped because you’ve turned bitter and weird, has a bouncy Beatles feel; “Chasing It”, which sounds like a 1980s John Waite semi-metal/semi-new-wave weeper, is about holding your head up. So go figure.
Zonana has a high keening voice which is perfect for singing pop tunes about depression; he’s half Robin Zander and half Chris Bell, and it’s clear that he’s got Velvet Crush and Teenage Fanclub albums lying all over his apartment. He knows how to nail a hook, and he can get soulful when he wants to, but mostly he’s just moving the song along to get it to its next section. This is a good strategy when the sections are as awesome as these are. “Heavy Metal Son” has “ooh ooh ooh” vocals layered all over the place, but it’s a power ballad in everything but name.
I urge you to fall in love with a power pop album this summer. You could do a hell of a lot worse than 42 Days.