'Dear 23': The Posies' First Awkward Leap into the Stratosphere

Photo: Dot Pierson / Courtesy of Omnivore Recordings

Reissued by Omnivore Recordings, the second album from the Posies marries bright, garage-inspired power-pop with a '90s mainstream rock sheen that holds back a typically enjoyable set of songs.

Dear 23
The Posies

Omnivore Recordings

15 June 2018

Dear 23 is the sort of record that invites the kind of re-evaluation prompted by a reissue or re-release. The second album from the Posies has the dubious distinction of being both Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow's major label debut and of being the album that preceded their big breakthrough. Thus, it doesn't have the indie cache of Failure or the band's early cassettes, nor does it have the immediacy and hit singles of Frosting on the Beater. With this, Omnivore's typically loving re-release, Dear 23 is poised to receive a new level of respect. But does this album -- the black sheep in the Posies near-perfect streak of early albums -- deserve to be elevated to the level of its better-known peers?

As an album, Dear 23 has always suffered to the ears more for its production than for its songwriting. The album -- produced by John Leckie, who had just worked on the Stone Roses' self-titled debut and who was only a few years away from helming Radiohead's The Bends -- was the Posies' first album on a major label, and many of the choices and flourishes added to the album seem to have been done to give the band a more commercial edge. To modern ears, though, this only serves to date the album, and the remaster does little to change that. Worse still, the canned guitars make the album's worst moment -- the prolonged jam "Flood of Sunshine" -- into a nigh-unbearable dirge of air-guitar cheese.

What's a real shame, though, is that Dear 23's studio missteps end up taking away from what is actually a solid set of songs from Auer and Stringfellow. While the compositions on Dear 23 maybe don't quite match up to what the pair would eventually conjure up on their next album, these are still very much the kind of tuneful, catchy power-pop songs that nod just enough to a long-forgotten pop past without sounding like pastiches. The hopped-up energy on display on "My Big Mouth" and "Golden Blunders" is enough to get anyone excited, and while the rest of the album tends to take things a bit slower, the band's knack for an easy melody never abandons them.

That especially comes through on the demos included in this reissue, which show most of these songs without the heavy studio gloss added to them. (Also of note is the inclusion of covers of Big Star's "Feel" and Chris Bell's "I Am the Cosmos", a foreshadowing of the Posies' eventual inclusion in a re-formed Big Star a few years later.) What's clear is that the Posies were still enjoying a creative peak at the time of Dear 23, even if it's hard to tell that from the finished product here.

From the beginning, the Posies wrote the kind of music that deserved to be presented to a wide audience; such was the mass appeal in their songs. While they would eventually get that moment in the sun (however brief), Dear 23 shows how difficult it can be to get that delicate balance right. Looking back, the album is an interesting curiosity with quite a bit to recommend about it, but one can only wonder what could have been.






PM Picks Playlist 1: Rett Madison, Folk Devils + More

The first PopMatters Picks Playlist column features searing Americana from Rett Madison, synthpop from Everything and Everybody, the stunning electropop of Jodie Nicholson, the return of post-punk's Folk Devils, and the glammy pop of Baby FuzZ.


David Lazar's 'Celeste Holm  Syndrome' Appreciates Hollywood's Unsung Character Actors

David Lazar's Celeste Holm Syndrome documents how character actor work is about scene-defining, not scene-stealing.


David Lord Salutes Collaborators With "Cloud Ear" (premiere)

David Lord teams with Jeff Parker (Tortoise) and Chad Taylor (Chicago Underground) for a new collection of sweeping, frequently meditative compositions. The results are jazz for a still-distant future that's still rooted in tradition.


Laraaji Takes a "Quiet Journey" (premiere +interview)

Afro Transcendentalist Laraaji prepares his second album of 2020, the meditative Moon Piano, recorded inside a Brooklyn church. The record is an example of what the artist refers to as "pulling music from the sky".


Blues' Johnny Ray Daniels Sings About "Somewhere to Lay My Head" (premiere)

Johnny Ray Daniels' "Somewhere to Lay My Head" is from new compilation that's a companion to a book detailing the work of artist/musician/folklorist Freeman Vines. Vines chronicles racism and injustice via his work.


The Band of Heathens Find That Life Keeps Getting 'Stranger'

The tracks on the Band of Heathens' Stranger are mostly fun, even when on serious topics, because what other choice is there? We all may have different ideas on how to deal with problems, but we are all in this together.


Landowner's 'Consultant' Is OCD-Post-Punk With Obsessive Precision

Landowner's Consultant has all the energy of a punk-rock record but none of the distorted power chords.


NYFF: 'American Utopia' Sets a Glorious Tone for Our Difficult Times

Spike Lee's crisp concert film of David Byrne's Broadway show, American Utopia, embraces the hopes and anxieties of the present moment.


South Africa's Phelimuncasi Thrill with Their Gqom Beats on '2013-2019'

A new Phelimuncasi anthology from Nyege Nyege Tapes introduces listeners to gqom and the dancefloors of Durban, South Africa.


Wolf Parade's 'Apologies to the Queen Mary' Turns 15

Wolf Parade's debut, Apologies to the Queen Mary, is an indie rock classic. It's a testament to how creative, vital, and exciting the indie rock scene felt in the 2000s.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Literary Scholar Andrew H. Miller On Solitude As a Common Bond

Andrew H. Miller's On Not Being Someone Else considers how contemplating other possibilities for one's life is a way of creating meaning in the life one leads.


Fransancisco's "This Woman's Work" Cover Is Inspired By Heartache (premiere)

Indie-folk brothers Fransancisco dedicate their take on Kate Bush's "This Woman's Work" to all mothers who have lost a child.


Rodd Rathjen Discusses 'Buoyancy', His Film About Modern Slavery

Rodd Rathjen's directorial feature debut, Buoyancy, seeks to give a voice to the voiceless men and boys who are victims of slavery in Southeast Asia.


Hear the New, Classic Pop of the Parson Red Heads' "Turn Around" (premiere)

The Parson Red Heads' "Turn Around" is a pop tune, but pop as heard through ears more attuned to AM radio's glory days rather than streaming playlists and studio trickery.


Blitzen Trapper on the Afterlife, Schizophrenia, Civil Unrest and Our Place in the Cosmos

Influenced by the Tibetan Book of the Dead, Blitzen Trapper's new album Holy Smokes, Future Jokes plumbs the comedic horror of the human condition.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Fire in the Time of Coronavirus

If we venture out our front door we might inhale both a deadly virus and pinpoint flakes of ash. If we turn back in fear we may no longer have a door behind us.


Sufjan Stevens' 'The Ascension' Is Mostly Captivating

Even though Sufjan Stevens' The Ascension is sometimes too formulaic or trivial to linger, it's still a very good, enjoyable effort.

Jordan Blum

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.