The Singles: Better Than Before

Will Harris

The Singles

Better Than Before

Label: Rainbow Quartz
US Release Date: 2003-08-26
UK Release Date: 2003-12-15

With all due respect to the label and its roster, it must be a simultaneous blessing and curse to be signed to Rainbow Quartz.

Certainly, Rainbow Quartz knows exactly the sort of artist on which they want to focus; as their website indicates, the label's emphasis is on "guitar-pop and rock with a jangly psychedelic edge as well as solid singer songwriters and bands with a cerebral and artsy bent". They know the big events at which to present their bands: the CMJ Festival, South by Southwest, and, of course, International Pop Overthrow. At the latter, the CDs by their artists virtually blow right off the merchandise table, so frantically are all the pop geeks (a group that includes this writer, it must be said) waving their cash around in order to obtain copies. This is a label that clearly loves the music they release and, as such, the musicians undoubtedly love the label to which they're signed; it has to be great to know that your label is behind you 100% with the music you produce.

Unfortunately, because the label has such an evident musical emphasis, those in the know could easily pick up a CD, see it's on Rainbow Quartz, and write off the artist simply because of the label to which they're signed, saying, "Oh, man, everyone on that label sounds the same."

And while the discerning listener can certainly tell the difference between, say, the Jessica Fletchers and the Gurus, well, frankly, it ain't like you can't tell about 30 seconds into either group's album that the two bands share similar influences. Certainly, playing "Spot the Influence" is a long-standing hallmark of the power pop scene as a whole, but, on Rainbow Quartz, it's like shooting fish in a barrel.

So the purpose of this review is to beg and plead with those folks who might be tempted to pigeonhole the Singles just because they're signed to Rainbow Quartz to beseech them to give Better Than Before a listen.

The Singles, who've come roaring out of Detroit, are dressed in suits and ties on the cover of their debut album, not entirely unlike the Hives; in fact, Better Than Before is extremely reminiscent of Veni Vidi Vicious, except that the Singles have a black backdrop compared to the Hives' white. There's some irony in the fact that the Hives appear to have been influenced by musicians from the Singles' hometown (the Stooges), even though the Singles' musical stylings are more closely aligned with folks like the Beatles, the Kinks, and the Flaming Groovies.

I know what you're thinking. "This guy just spent several paragraphs talking about how everyone on Rainbow Quartz has a similar sound, then he says to give the Singles a chance, but what does he do? He admits they have similar influences to everyone else on the label!"

True. But there's something different about the Singles.

While much of the Rainbow Quartz roster is mining the psychedelic period of the '60s, the Singles are living large in the mid '60s, when the Beatles hadn't yet turned off their mind, relaxed, and floated downstream. This is old-school pop-rock, occasionally even heading into Buddy Holly territory (it's undeniable on "See You Again") ... but with all the raucous punk-pop gusto of the Buzzcocks. This is an incredibly energetic album from start to finish...well, okay, except for the gentle "There's Nothing Wrong with I'm with You." But everyone needs to rest once in awhile.

In an interview on the label's website, the Singles' lead singer/ rhythm guitarist Vince Frederick says, "Our main goal is to record two albums a year. I hate how long bands take to release a follow-up album." Given the sheer enthusiasm of Better Than Before, it's easy to imagine the band making good on their goal. Now, whether or not Rainbow Quartz is going to be willing to release two albums a year... that remains to be seen.

At the very least, though, it's indisputable that the Singles are the most valuable jewel in Rainbow Quartz's crown.

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