The Tampa Bay quartet Barely Pink (named for a lipstick color mentioned in The Valley of the Dolls) is known for its hard straight-ahead melodic rock 'n' roll. Their live performances draw rave reviews (and any band that can manage the medley from the closing side of Abbey Road knows their stuff).
On their third full-length studio effort Last Day of Summer, they pull together all the requisite rock elements for what amounts to an enjoyable 10-song lineup that will power its way into your forever adolescent heart. To me, two of these elements stand out: the hard-edged vocal stylings of Brian Merrill and the truly impressive lead guitar work of Mark Warren. That's not to take anything away from rhythm section members Michael Hoag (bass) and Stan Arthur (drums), but those other two really make Barely Pink distinctive and ultimately, fun to hear. Barely Pink is without irony -- this isn't art, it's rock 'n' roll -- and remembering that adds to an enjoyment of their music.
Following in the musical footsteps of Cheap Trick, the Knack, Kiss, Badfinger, Todd Rundgren, and even the great Southern rock traditions of Lynyrd Skynyrd, Barely Pink wants to get you either up and dancing, singing along at high volume, or both. Believing that melody and harmony in rock is coming back, they deliver perhaps their best set yet.
"Girl in the Crowd" is a fairly simple plea for closeness to one certain listener, moderately catchy and clocking in at just over two minutes. "Do What You Like" features impressive work from Hoag on bass, and some falsetto vocals from Merrill on the chorus, on this song that advises "Whatever makes you happy, do what you like."
In a similar vein, we get "Sixteen's Gone", employing falsetto-backup woo-woos, à la Rolling Stones, and a combination of Merrill vocals and Warren leads that do truly remind one of Lynyrd Skynyrd at the height of their musical prowess.
"Simple Enough" is quite infectious, employing tempo changes (nicely handled by Stan Arthur) and some very emotive vocals from Merrill about simples lessons never learned and ongoing rough situations, reflected on from a barstool: "And the last call sounds like a eulogy / Dirty glasses huddle in conspiracy / And no one here's the wiser, including me."
"Hurt You Anyless" is a mid-tempo ballad in an early Tom Petty or John Mellencamp mode. The discussion is a tough relationship, when more is shared than loving feeling: "No matter what you say, I'm out the door / Don't care about your pain I've always ignored / Well you've got my problems and I've got yours / If I hurt you any less would you love me any more."
"Mercury Girl" is another ballad, slow but sweet and infused with harmonies, of an elusive love that can't be grasped: "Been getting lost inside my TV / Believing things that don't believe in me / And every thought of you follows me around the room / Like a police chase as I try to get away / Your love is quicksilver falling through my hands / You got away again."
With "Mood Meter Maid", Barely Pink shifts into the manner of a Cheap Trick or label-mate Shazam, rocking out a tune espousing the irresistible charms of a woman wearing a badge and a uniform. "California" builds quietly, showing Merrill's mastery of the upper register, a song of placing love dreams and hopes upon a still-distant west coast destination.
While adept at ballads, rocking out still is what Barely Pink does best. Witness "Strongest One", where again we're given a Stones-like falsetto chorus along with some nice lyrical turns about a college girl "coming undone." Mark Warren really takes command in the lead here, putting some great chops on display.
The CD closes with "Firebug", a track that really serves to showcase the band's talents. You get tight harmonies, stop and start segments, great power guitars and that sort of rock anthem feeling that'll have you waving your lighter for an encore even as the song fades out.
With Last Day of Summer, Barely Pink brings a melodic power-pop edge to a foundation based upon Southern rock. The music is catchy, the songs are fun, and the quartet executes well. So while this CD won't likely change anyone's world, it will (like the actual last day of summer) provide fond memories to be revisited every now and again.