Doug Powell: Four Seasons

Jason MacNeil

Doug Powell wrote songs for the New Cars. They said no. He kept them. And they're head and shoulders above anything Elliott Easton and Todd Rundgren brought to their Version 2.0 table.

Doug Powell

Four Seasons

Label: Paisley Pop
US Release Date: 2006-06-06
UK Release Date: Available as import

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.


To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less

The World of Captain Beefheart: An Interview with Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx

Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx (photo © Michael DelSol courtesy of Howlin' Wuelf Media)

Guitarist and band leader Gary Lucas and veteran vocalist Nona Hendryx pay tribute to one of rock's originals in this interview with PopMatters.

From the opening bars of "Suction Prints", we knew we had entered The World of Captain Beefheart and that was exactly where we wanted to be. There it was, that unmistakable fast 'n bulbous sound, the sudden shifts of meter and tempo, the slithery and stinging slide guitar in tandem with propulsive bass, the polyrhythmic drumming giving the music a swing unlike any other rock band.

Keep reading... Show less

Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting, and creative audacity. This is the history of the seminal new wave group

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee's yearly announcement of the latest batch of potential inductees always generates the same reaction: a combination of sputtering outrage by fans of those deserving artists who've been shunned, and jubilation by fans of those who made the cut. The annual debate over the list of nominees is as inevitable as the announcement itself.

Keep reading... Show less

From Haircut 100 to his own modern pop stylings, Nick Heyward is loving this new phase of his career, experimenting with genre with the giddy glee of a true pop music nerd.

In 1982, Nick Heyward was a major star in the UK.

As the leader of pop sensations Haircut 100, he found himself loved by every teenage girl in the land. It's easy to see why, as Haircut 100 were a group of chaps so wholesome, they could have stepped from the pages of Lisa Simpson's "Non-Threatening Boys" magazine. They resembled a Benetton knitwear advert and played a type of quirky, pop-funk that propelled them into every transistor radio in Great Britain.

Keep reading... Show less

This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.