Saturday, November 10, 2012

Book Review: Power Pop Prime by Bruce Brodeen

I am such a dork.

Thank goodness.

There comes a point in the life of every power pop fanatic when he or she just has to face the fact that the cool world has passed them by and they will never be a part of the "in-crowd" ever again. If you are a guy in your early 20's when this happens there may be a momentary bout of panic as you start to worry this means you'll never get laid again, but, in the main, this is a liberating moment. Never again need you feign interest in a passing fad you always detested anyway. You could instead immerse yourself in the sounds that truly moved you.

If you had the good fortune to "come of age" in the 1990's there was a small ocean of power pop to get lost in, as well as a cottage industry of indie labels and fan-zines that tickled your musical fancy while they taxed your wallet. And all the while your friends wasted their money on luxuries like food and shelter. Talk about your screwed up priorities.

The eclectic series of books labelled Power Pop Prime are something of a cross between a time capsule and a scrapbook of power pop in the years 1995 to 2010. The time period of the books is defined by the years of operation of the late lamented and seminal record label/retailer Not Lame, which should come as no surprise as the author/compiler of the volumes is none other than Not Lame founder and pop savant Bruce Brodeen.

So what exactly makes these books eclectic? Well, for starters, of the four volumes of the proposed nine to be released so far there are three different formats. Volume One and Two, covering the years 1995 to 1999, offer up Brodeen's Top 100 (well, 100-ish) power pop releases of the 1990's, interviews with some of the artists selected for that list, as well as reproductions of actual Not Lame mail catalogs of that era. Volume Seven, actually the first of the books to be published, covers the years 2007-08 by offering a more encyclopedic listing of notable releases and reissues that runs nearly 300 pages. Volume Nine covers 2010 with a smaller list of top releases from that year with accompanying interviews from some of those artists.

There is a "Hey! Let's put on a show in the barn!" feel to the series which, strangely enough, fits in with the subject matter perfectly. Those who remember the pre-internet triumphant days of hard copy mail catalogs and imperfectly edited zines will notice and appreciate the labor of love quality here. That D.I.Y. spirit can also be seen in the way the volumes have evolved over time. The interviews published in Volume Nine, the second book released, were heavily scripted affairs that basically asked everyone the exact same series of questions, and as a result they weren't always quite as informative or entertaining as they should have been. By comparison, the interviews in the most recently released volume (number Two) are tailored for each artist, and they are both informative and wonderfully fun to read, even if some of the stories are cringe worthy. From time to time you'll be wondering if you should laugh or cry, which is exactly how good power pop is supposed to affect you, right?

I'm not certain where the series will go from here. While the Best Of List plus interview format is coming together nicely there is something to be said for the Trouser Press guide style of Volume Seven. Who knows? Maybe they will go off in an entirely new direction. Wherever they go I'll follow along.... just like any good power pop dork would.

My advice is to pick these up while you can.


I forgot to mention each volume comes with at least one CD of  music from the time period of the book, which only helps the "bang for your buck" quotient. Enough said.

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