There’s nothing quite so effortless or ethereal in radio than a good, anthemic British pop song. See, Britpop has a habit of employing singers with a pure, if thin tenor timbre, Britpop likes major keys, Britpop often employs copious violins. At its best, Britpop floats over this sphere leaving a trail of infectious melodies and good vibes in its wake, even when it’s tackling topics best classified as “deadly serious”. We may, however, be nearing the end of the time when Great Britain monopolizes the genre that bears its name, however, as it would appear other countries are ready to loosen the stranglehold.
Enter Pony Ride, the best “Britpop” album I’ve heard this year, courtesy of Finland’s own The Crash.
Pony Ride has a sense of utter joy about it that is rare in the still-gloomy landscape of modern music, and that sense of joy permeates every inch of the album, regardless of what lead vocalist and guitarist Teemu Brunila might be singing about. Of course, it probably helps that on the title track, which kicks off the album, he’s singing about shagging (no, literally, there’s a lyric here that goes “Do you see a guy like me / And a girl like you / shagging by the fire / On a honeymoon?”), and on the next track, if we are to believe the title, he’s singing about a “Big Ass Love”. Yes, the words “big ass love” actually show up in the song itself, and it really shouldn’t work, but it does, thanks to a complete and total investment in the song by every single member involved.
Of course, there’s another reason this all works as well — the members of The Crash allow their pop music to go beyond the “sensitive guys with floppy hair and guitars” sound that seems to work so well so often, allowing their sound to go into just about every single musical realm that was around in, oh, the early ’70s. The classic R&B sound of that era peddled by groups like Earth Wind & Fire and the Jackson 5 (I swear the call-and-response hook of “Big Ass Love”‘s chorus was lifted from a Jackson 5 tune) is well-represented, as is the piano-balladic tendency of, say, Elton John (as on the utterly beautiful “Grace”) and, perhaps least surprisingly, latter-period Beatles — “Backstage”, in particular, sounds like a less-poetic Paul McCartney singing an ode to winning love via stardom.
All of the genre-hopping is held together by Brunila’s delightfully effeminate vocal stylings. This is a Bee Gee-type of voice, a high voice that, love it or hate it, is impossible to ignore even as the songs change moods and styles on a whim. That voice is what makes a song by The Crash unique, and the band wouldn’t be able to hold the attention of its rapt Scandinavian audience without it.
The Crash’s everything-and-the-kitchen-sink approach does occasionally backfire, however, the most dramatically awful example being the decidedly painful “Filthy Flower”, a three-chord rock (though not ROCK) workout that doesn’t exude any of the charisma most of the other tracks are exploding with, along with lyrics that are just… bad. “Hey, you’re my filthy flower / And I’m your Dirty Harry / I could be your lover / But I wanna be your man,” Brunila sings, and thousands of heads are simultaneously scratched. No, lyrics don’t always have to be profound, but if the music is going to be this derivative and unimaginative, the words had best have something to offer. Not so here. Less egregious but still disappointing is the oddly lifeless closer “These Days”, an attempt to close Pony Ride on a sensitive note that instead works only as an unintentional lullaby.
Still, stumbles borne of ambition can be forgiven. As it turns out, Pony Ride is the fourth album from The Crash, and it’s the kind of album that makes one want to hear the other three — was The Crash always so daring in their genre-hopping? I hope finding out is as thrilling as hearing Pony Ride for the very first time. The Crash deserves an audience outside of Finland; now is as good a time as any to start broadening your horizons.