#5 Fountains of Wayne - Welcome Interstate Managers (S-Curve Records, 2003)
This album could be subtitled "Welcome to your pseudo-adulthood." There is a recurring air about it which speaks to a post-college graduation twenty something. You can hear it in the incomprehension of the working world in "Bright Future in Sales" or the juxtaposed imagery in "Mexican Wine." In a more reflective vein "Hackensack" casts a slightly weary eye towards the past. The Simon & Garfunkel-ish "Hey Julie" is just as weary about the present. The music cover a vast swath of popular music, from the folky "Valley Winter Song," to the 80's pop sound of "Stacy's Mom," to the mock country of "Hung up on You," to XTC style psychedelia of "Supercollider." The invention and tunefulness never lags for a moment.
#4 Splitsville - Incorporated (Houston Party, 2003)
This album ranks as the slickest pop record of the decade. Every track sparkles in a way that would have seemed impossible for those familiar with a record like Ultrasound. Luckily, none of the heart is missing for all its shininess. "Brink" is a first rate rocker with a perfect Van Halen call back moment. "Headache" hearkens back to the best of the Greenberry Woods material of the 90's, and probably improves on it. "California" and "Trouble" are pop rock done right. However, it is the ballads on the album which elevate this release above most of its peers. The spacy (in a good way) "White Dwarf" is a gutsy album opener, but it work beautifully. "Sasha" also works in every way imaginable. But the best is the album closer "I Wish I Never Met You," which, for my money, has the finest lyrical moment of the decade:
Because you never show me
The poetry you keep under your bed
The sentimental stories
And bitter words you wish you might have said
That crawl up through the top sheet
And penetrate my sweet dreams
'Til I'm the one that can't sleep
It's too sweet to be bitter, too bitter to be sweet, and too painful to be bittersweet. Whatever you call it, its masterful pop music making.
#3 Brendan Benson - Lapalco (Startime, 2002)
Here is a collection of power pop songs presented without pretension and without fear even if, as the track "Folk Singer" informs us, Benson is "not John Lennon." That's ok, because the twelve tracks prove being Brendan Benson is enough. "Tiny Spark" sets the tone with its playful insistency. "Life in the D" is the sort of nonsense Edward Lear merry-go-ride which only someone who doesn't give a crap what anyone thinks could get away with. As a result its a little pop gem. The rock numbers, though, are what propels the album. "Good to Me," "You're Quiet," and "I'm Easy" grab hold of the listener and never let go. Not that you'd ever mind.
#2 P. Hux - Kiss The Monster (Voiceprint Records, 2007)
You have to admire the confidence of an artist who would kick off an album with a track titled "Perfect." After the first listen to the track I was willing to say, "pretty much." Indeed the entire album builds from that joyous opening number. "Yet to Say" and "Wear My Ring" continue the theme of romantic optimism with power pop aplomb. (Yeah, I wrote it!)
Huxley doesn't stay in the slightly giddy mode throughout. "Come Clean" and "My Friend Hates Me" explores darker themes with genuine pathos and genuine humor. However, there is no doubt the good times are meant to roll here, as proved by a delightful rendition of the Beatles' "I'm Looking Through You" offered here, as well the new power pop classic "Better Than Good" and the trippy "Just Might Fly." All in all, this album is a reminder that sometimes its ok to feel good.
#1 Eugene Edwards - My Favorite Revolution (Tallboy Records, 2004)
This album is everything you'd ever want from a guitar driven pop record; all of the songs are memorable; influences abound, but the song writing is never derivative; the playing and singing is top notch; and when its all over you want to do it all over again. If only sex was always this enjoyable.
Highlights? Every song is a highlight here. I'll take time to mention the Nick Lowe-ish "It Doesn't Get Better Than This" and the Marshall Crenshaw-ish "Congratulations, My Darling." OH, and don't forget the Elvis Costello-ey "At Your Place" or the Eugene Edward-ish "All About You." (Hey, its only fair.) For any pop geek, and you know who you are, its impossible to not fall in love with a song like "My Favorite Revolution" which gets it in a way friends and lovers sometimes don't...
Where would we be without them?
Thank God we’ll never know
We’re safe and sound as angels
When it’s dark and we dance slow
And it’s my favorite revolution
And, this decade at least, this record is my favorite revolution.