Power pop as a genre has changed little during its existence. It can be traced from the Beatles, down through Cheap Trick, Matthew Sweet, the Gigolo Aunts, Fountains of Wayne, and Weezer. Plenty of other groups fit this mold as well, and the Plus Ones are no exception. At times on their full-length debut CD, It’s a Calling, the Plus Ones can evoke many of these bands. Power pop is generally defined as playing classic pop melodies loudly. It is a broad term, as there are many different sub-genres executed within it. They may or may not consider any of the aforementioned groups as influences, but the Plus Ones touch on many of their styles. What makes a group a power pop band is and always will be debated, but the Plus Ones wear their enthusiasm for the genre on their sleeves.
Vocalist/bassist Joel Reader (ex Mr. T Experience) formed the group in late 1998 but only firmed up its current lineup in 2001. The northern Californian quartet also includes the dual guitar/vocals of Scott Hay and John Speranza, as well as Pansy Division’s Luis Illades on drums. Illades is the only member to continue on in his other group, as the others have quit their respective bands to concentrate on the Plus Ones exclusively. Having two guitar players/vocalists in the band gives them a harder edge, while allowing the three-part vocal harmonies all but required of classic pop. These harmonies are in evidence all over the record, from choruses to the occasional doo-wop like “oh yeahs” and “ohs” in songs such as “Serve in Heaven/Rule in Hell” and “Nowhere to Go But Up”.
It’s A Calling opens with the first of many music scene related songs, “What Will People Say?”, in which Reader responds to naysayers of his ability to start his own band. The theme of music industry in-jokes continues in “All the Boys”, calling out groupies and hangers-on alike (“You’re quite good at telling me just what I wanna hear / And you do a bit more than just talk / That much is clear”), while name-checking the famed California venue the Troubadour. “Serve in Heaven/Rule in Hell” deals with the trials and tribulations of the indie-rock world, while the Squeeze-like “I Stand Corrected” uses the poor choices made by a band second guessing its’ audience as a metaphor for the assumptions made in a relationship. “Touring in the Fall” serves up one of the albums catchiest, guitar driven songs, full of smirking, self-referential lyrics about reuniting with a lover, but only on the road. Even the band’s name, the Plus Ones, references the guest list, omnipresent at every gig every band has ever played. They might have been the first fully postmodern pop band, but not all the songs here are so self-referential.
The rest of the songs on the album deal with a topic well known to all fans of pop music: love and relationships. “Natalie Please” could be an answer to the Beach Boys’ “Caroline, No”, via Jellyfish-style jangling guitars and melodies. “Make a Confession” would have fit into Elvis Costello’s late ’70s setlists. The first of two real standouts, though, on It’s a Calling is “It’s Not You, It’s Me”. The midtempo song starts with some simple guitar and bass doubling over the drums, then builds to separate guitar melodies and some very tight vocal harmonies by the end. The other standout is the overt rock song “Lips That Will Never Touch Mine”. Strong harmonies, loud guitars, and Luis Illades’ even yet driving drum patterns recall the rock anthems of 1970s power pop, without falling into the possible cliches of that era.
On their first album, the Plus Ones are able to conjure up their influences over decades of pop, while presenting it in a very modern way. Though many of the clichés of pop music are referenced throughout the record, whether in lyric or structure, the band uses them to their advantage to reflect their love of melody and verse. Much of self-referential lyrics could have been too cloying, but they seem to be able to keep it light while steering clear of Barenaked Ladies-like cuteness. But this definitely is a fun record to listen to, from its lyrics to its brash pop emulation. Power pop still has a fan base, and the Plus Ones obviously count themselves amongst it, and play it unabashedly.