[19 September 2006]
Doug Powell’s history reads like one of those baseball players who is more than capable of doing the job, and doing it brilliantly, but for one reason or another is traded as often as his card. In 10 years, he’s been on Mercury, then Not Lame, then Muse Sickle, then Yep Roc, then Parasol, then back to Muse Sickle, before now calling Paisley Pop home. Since change is something Powell has become accustomed to, his latest album is also a bit of a change. It’s not really one entire album, but a collection of songs that were never used, ended up on EPs or never found a proper home. Hell, it’s even color coordinated to tell you which songs come from which time frame. But don’t let the Genesis or Phil Collins-like walk on the front cover fool you. This is an album that will have you hooked from the get go.
Powell has always fallen under the radar, but you’d be scratching your head as to the reason why judging by “Feel For You” which sounds like it could have been a great single for the Cars (or even the New Cars). It’s a sweet, but not too slick radio-friendly track with a healthy heap of electro-pop with its keyboards and synthesizers. It’s rock steady even with Powell occasionally veering from his Ocasek-like delivery for a brief, but grin-inducing Buddy Holly-esque vocal hiccup. Another pretty nugget is the somewhat softer and mid-tempo pop jewel, “Runaround”, which shows another side of Powell even though you know the roadmap of this song from the start. The cheeky chorus that is screaming for a sing-along even comes up smelling like roses. And instead of growing into some larger anthem, it’s quite content to stick to its guns and glide along easily.
The first song that is good, but not amazing, is the steady and somewhat slicker “Lies”, that relies a lot on the electro-pop vibe. Powell sounds like he’s not quite into the song, but gives a very good performance nonetheless. It’s the sort of tune that you can’t really get into after a couple of listens, you either like it or you don’t. Meanwhile “Fire and Ice” is definitely a trip down memory lane, with Powell evoking the spirits of Thomas Dolby and Simple Minds’ Jim Kerr at the same time, even if they’re not dead yet. It’s a slow, but rather alluring little number that winds its way around the listener. But after that, it’s back to Ric Ocasek era Cars 101 with a pretty and engaging pop hit entitled “One Good Reason”, which has several good reasons to put on your iPod or keep hitting replay.
However, it’s just six songs that make up this portion of the album. The next four tracks are from a Japanese EP released in 2001 called Venus DeMilo’s Arms which has a funkier rock feel to it, especially on the boogie-riddled and shuffling “Shot Like a Bullet Into the Sun”. It resembles a cross between Neil Finn and the Stone Roses. But the low point comes with the sincere and earnest “Do You Know Mary?” that is terribly sweet even for Paisley Pop artists. From there “Bye Bye Magpie” sounds like it came from some ‘60s Byrds’ studio session which never materialized into some gold. It’s short, crisp and punchy while even referring to Dr. Seuss in the process.
You can tell which songs are from a different period of time. Two of the final three tracks are from an unfinished album Powell started in 2004. “The Same Divide” is a gentle, lovely piano ballad that has a lush, yet intricate style, with strings and a somewhat dark quality to it. However, as sophisticated as that tune sounds, “Mary Annette” is a blend of polka, early Beatles and a sweet melody that is hard not to enjoy, even if it is a tad hokey at times. And speaking of the Beatles, “God Bless Us All” was written for Ringo Starr’s Christmas album but, you guessed it, Ringo didn’t use it. Think of “All You Need Is Love” as a starting point, and the song becomes clear. Sooner or later Doug Powell will get his just rewards, but in the meantime you’ll have to settle with a better-than-above-average songwriter and fabulous songs that, despite being made in different times, come together as one quite nicely.