POWER OF DREAMS Immigrants, Migrants and Me (100% Music)

Irish band that formed at the end of the 80s, released a couple of albums to acclaim and then disbanded in the mid-90s. By all accounts, rather obscure on the world stage but certainly ripe for re-examination. 1989’s Immigrants, Migrants and Me was the band’s debut LP and this 20th Anniversary edition is the perfect time to discover the joys of the Power of Dreams.

Hard to discount the inspirations of fellow countrymen U2 and the Waterboys on this collection of acoustic guitar-favoured Irish-accented rockers and those are good reference points to take into account when listening to this excellent album. Songs like the breezy The Joke’s On Me, the bouncing Does It Matter, the dreamy Had You Listened and the dynamic Stay, are reasons enough for fans of 90s alt-rock to check this out.

And there’s a 2nd disc of bonus material as well, consisting of demos recording, singles and live tracks to provide a fairly comprehensive picture of Power of Dreams’ music during this period. One definitely for the fans but neophytes should also consider jumping on the bandwagon as well.

Official Site



THE LUCY SHOW …undone (Words On Music)

Rock history is littered with the debris of promising bands who never quite fulfilled their full potential. You could say that The Lucy Show certainly qualifies. During their brief existence (from 1983 to 1988) the band released two critically well-received post-punk/new wave albums that never got the label marketing support required to sustain the commercial momentum to survive the cut-throat music industry.

US indie label Words On Music has done its part in re-issuing the two Lucy Show LPs in an attempt to expose the band to the modern day rock audiences. …undone is the band’s debut (1985) and is reminiscent of the Cure and the Comsat Angels in its use of sonic atmospherics and affected vocals.

Tracks like the REM-channeling Remain, the other-worldly Ephemeral (This Is No Heaven), the fragile Wipe Out, the dynamic Undone and the psychedelic Dream Days are excellent representations of the kind of post-punk that continues to be deeply influential to this day on bands like the White Lies, the Editors and the xx.

A relic from a different age.

Official site



RICH MCCULLEY Starting All Over Again (Self-released)

Over the years, I’ve reviewed a couple of Rich McCulley’s albums here at the Power of Pop, simply because McCulley manages to get one main thing right – he writes great country-pop melodies.

In this respect, latest LP – Starting All Over Again – may be McCulley’s best collection of songs yet. McCulley doesn’t stray too far from the formula, but it’s one that totally works. Fans of Gram Parsons, Teenage Fanclub, Big Star, Wilco, Blue Rodeo, BMX Bandits and the Jayhawks et al will have absolutely no problems with enjoying this well-crafted album. And neither will you.

Official Site




THE GET UP KIDS Simple Science (Self-released)

The quintessential emo band – The Get Up Kids – are back, after an absence of six years. The band have decided to go independent i.e. to release their own music. The idea is to issue three 4-track EPs in 2010, rather a 12-track LP. Makes perfect sense to me. The album has been dead for awhile now. Long live the EP!

That said, I am a little underwhelmed by the new material featured here on the 1st EP instalment. Inevitably comparisons with last album – 2004’s Guilt Show – will surface and frankly the 4 tracks here pale somewhat. Almost by-the-numbers cookie-cutter, songs like Keith Case and Tommy Gentle come across like Get Up Kids pastiches.

To be fair, final track – How You’re Bound – has enough heart in it to slightly compensate for the lacklustre nature of the three preceding tracks. But only just. I’m hoping the band is saving the best for last.

Official site



STEREOPHONICS Keep Calm and Carry On (Mercury/Universal)

This Welsh band is one of the few bands (that emerged out of the mid-90s Britpop era) to still be commercially successful in modern UK rock scene. In the 13 years since the release of the debut LP, Word Gets Around, Stereophonics’ sonic approach has remained intact – classic UK rock which retains the hookiness of 70s British rock (e.g. glam, blues rock) and the post punk edge of the 80s.

Album number 7 – Keep Calm and Carry On (a slogan from WWII) – contains many vibrant, catchy tunes (e.g. Innocent, She’s Alright, Could You Be The One? and Trouble) to keep casual pop fans happy. Serious themes like alcoholism (Beerbottle) and fake hypocritical people (I Got Your Number, Uppercut).

An excellent album that will appeal to both serious and casual music lovers. Music video of Innocent below.

Oh, and Stereophonics return to Singapore to play at Fort Canning Park on 30 April at 8pm. Tickets available at SISTIC.


YOUNG MOTHERS Come On, The Cross Single (Fort Lowell)

James Tritten (guitarist for Tracy Shedd) has set up a label called Fort Lowell Records.  It is a 7inch Only label, releasing limited runs of 500 Colored Vinyl for artists out of Tucson, AZ.

First up is Young Mothers, who already have an album – Arts and Crafts – under their belt, with this pleasing single consisting of Come On, The Cross and Good Swords. This single is an interesting hybrid of classic pop songwriting and indie rock allure. Come On, The Cross and Good Swords possess enough Beatlesque vibes to interest powerpoppers and dark folk energy to appeal to fans of Fleet Foxes, Band of Horses and Bon Iver.



AMY MACDONALD A Curious Thing (Universal)

Selling 3 million copies of your debut CD (the aptly titled This Is This Life) when you’re a mere 20 year old is some achievement. This is what Scottish songstress Macdonald managed as she took her native UK by storm in 2007. Musically, Macdonald recalls the epic pop-rock of the 90s Brit-pop era (viz. Travis, Manic Street Preachers, Stereophonics) but imbued with modern rock’s obsession with electronica.

Thus, on Macdonald’s sophomore effort, catchy, straightforward pop-rock songs like Don’t Tell Me That It’s All Over, Love Love, Give It All Up and Troubled Soul is brilliantly embellished by strings and synths by producer Pete Wilkinson. A bright poppy album that deserves the mainstream adulation it will no doubt attract.

Check out the video of Don’t Tell Me That It’s All Over, the first single below.

Official Site



SWEET APPLE Love & Desperation (Tee Pee)

Distilling all that is strange and wonderful about rock music into sublime three chord nuggets that sound fresh yet familiar is the achievement of indie rock uber-group Sweet Apple.

Consisting of Dinosaur Jr’s J Mascis (drums, guitars & vocals), Cobra Vedre’s John Petrovic (vocals & guitar) and Tim Parnin (guitars & vocals) and Witch’s Dave Sweetapple (bass & vocals), Sweet Apple cover as wide a range of rock approaches as possible with nods to slacker rock (I’ve Got A Feeling), Southern rock (It’s Over Now), psychedelic blues (Hold Me, I’m Dying), stoner rock (Blindfold), fragile melancholy rock (Dead Moon), blues rock (Crawling Over Bodies) and cock rock (Never Came).

By now, I think you get the picture – Love & Desperation is every true rockers’ wet dream. Let it be yours.

Official Site



FRIDAY MILE Good Luck Studio (Timber Carnival)

Take authentic soulful alt-country material and deeply infuse a classic 70s pop-rock sensibility and you might be fortunate enough to produce the excellent country-folk-pop-rock hybrid that so gleefully inhabits the music on this fabulous album.

Friday Mile is based in Seattle, and fronted by gifted singer-songwriters Jace Krause and Hannah Williams, do a wonderful job in hitting all the right notes, to develop a heartfelt, melodic sound that is appealing on every level.

Songs like the poignant Lives of Strangers, the almost shocking Autograph (“I’ve been unfaithful to you”), the charming Adorable Machine (“as soon as I thought I was in, I was out”) and the sprightly FYI recall the diligent songcraft and delicate attitude of the Jayhawks, Blue Rodeo, Pernice Brothers, Neko Case, Cowboy Junkies and Wilco.

The icing on the cake must be the pleasing vocal interplay between Krause and Williams, adding spice to the multi-flavoured buffet already on offer in Good Luck Studio. Potentially, a PoP classic.

Official Site



THE RADIO DEPT. Clinging to a Scheme (Labrador)

For fans of classic post-punk and beyond, Swedish band The Radio Dept. is an absolute treat. Combining indie twee pop with electronic sensibilities, The Radio Dept. has produced delightfully melodic pop slabs of mood and atmosphere – a potent mix!

On this, the band’s third album, the hybrid process has been honed to a fine art. The pulsating synths and chiming guitars manage to strike a fine balance to create something unique. The beats are never too intrusive and exist to serve the tunes and yet they are an entity unto themselves nonetheless.

For most of Clinging to a Scheme, The Radio Dept. can do no wrong, pulling out miraculous melodies and irresistible rhythms on mesmerizing tracks like the gleaming Domestic Scene, the slinky Heaven’s On Fire, the dynamic New Order-channeling This Time Around, the throbbing Never Follow Suit, the dreamy Token of Gratitude, the incisive The Video Dept., the thoughtful Memory Loss, the noisy OMD-referencing Four Months in the Shade and the plaintively atmospheric You Stopped Making Sense.

Yes, I realize that I’ve listed practically the entire album but that’s a simple measure of how great Clinging to a Scheme is. A delight in every sense of the word. Only thing left for me to say is that it will definitely be one of the finest albums you will listen to this year. Essential!

Oh, and of course, The Radio Dept. will be playing in Singapore on 7th April. Details TBA.

Official Site



LET’S WRESTLE In the Court of the Wrestling Let’s (Merge)

This album is the sort of freewheeling beautiful mess one would be expected to become obsessed with. I mean, Engish trio, Let’s Wrestle – Wesley Patrick Gonzalez (vocals and guitar), Mike Lightning (bass and vocals), and Darkus Bishop (drums) – like to play it as if they don’t give a fuck but listening to this fine LP, it’s clear that they obviously do. And they have the chops and attitude to match.

Don’t let the austere production and light arrangements fool you into believing that these songs are anything but well-crafted and finely-honed. Betraying catholic tastes that includes The Beatles, Neil Young, Pavement, Nirvana, Swell Maps, Pixies, The Raincoats, Bowie, Beach Boys, Fugazi, ELO, Dinosaur Jr, Buddy Holly, Black Sabbath, The Clean, Denim, Grandaddy, Husker Du, Wire, Yo La Tengo, Phil Spector (*whew*), Let’s Wrestle has delivered a quirky, melodic, spiky mini-masterpiece.

Free Download: We’re the Men You’ll Grow to Love Soon and check out the video below.



LIFEHOUSE Smoke & Mirrors (Geffen)

Every modern rock cliche gets aired in this, the 5th album from multi-million album selling “alternative” rock band Lifehouse. Is it just me or does the irony of a band that has sold in excess of 15 million singles and albums being described as “alternative” escape everyone else?

Now, if I disconnected every intelligent thought from my ears, I might conceivably enjoy this vapid exercise of a rock album. Back in the 80s and 90s, we would call Lifehouse a corporate rock sellout but now they’re an “alternative” rock band. Back in the 80s such terminology would only be reserved for “true” alt-rock bands like REM, the Replacements and Husker Du. Boy, do I feel old…

Is more irony being employed by the band naming their new album “Smoke & Mirrors”. I mean, really? Is this the price of being popular and wealthy in the modern rock scene – a lack of originality , ideas and worse of all, soul? It must be, because Lifehouse has certainly made a career out it.

Rant over.



Oh boy, after the furore over my review of the Kris Allen gig, I guess I’m gonna be stepping right in (sh)it again, eh?

Frankly, I’m pissed off by non-musicians telling me you don’t need any ability, craft or intelligence to be successful in the travesty that passes for the modern rock scene. Worse still, when so-called music lovers readily acknowledge that all they need is one song, a likable personality and a young face to “appreciate” music.

Yes, that may be the reality but do I have to surrender and accept the status quo or do I rail against the “system” that deludes people in thinking that the cynical product that they are buying (or illegally downloading) is the best music ever written in the histroy of pop-rock music?

Now, I have nothing personal against Nick Jonas. For all I know, he’s probably a really good kid (still only 17). But after being part of a pre-fabricated teenybopper group like the Jonas Brothers, he should expect a proper critical response when he tries to cross over into more “serious” music making.

When I first got a glance at the cover of Jonas’ debut solo album, all I could see was this fresh-faced kid trying to come across like the Boss i.e. Bruce Springsteen! Yes I know, what a hilarious notion! However, Jonas himself has admitted as much in interviews that he hopes to emulate Springsteen with this album.

Yet another case of sheer delusion! I mean – has he actually listened to Springsteen or is this something his publicist cooked up in a vain glorious attempt at rock cred? I mean, this is an insult to proper bands out there like The Hold Steady or the Gaslight Anthem, who can stake legitimate claims to Springsteen’s musical legacy.

Oh yeah, what about the music on Who I Am? To his credit, Jonas dwells into “old-school” soul-funk-pop-rock grooves, which are innocuous in themselves – and his band is fairly tight in delivery. It’s just that Jonas himself does not possess the vocal chops to pull it off – no soul in this white boy! In many ways, the material here is similar to Kris Allen’s – all form without substance – and none of these songs will be remembered 5 years from now but then I’m sure that fact is irrelevant to our instant coffee NOW generation. I’m sorry but just because you’re a famous TV star does not automatically make you a good singer-songwriter as well.

The release comes with a bonus DVD of Jonas and the band running through eight songs and really the visuals add nothing to the equation unless you’re a pre-pubescent salivating over Jonas’ visage. I guess what I’m saying is that despite his best intentions, Jonas’ debut solo album will only appeal to Jonas Brothers fans – which I suppose is good enough, all things considered. But for the serious rock listener, this is one to avoid because its exactly what you expect a solo album from Nick Jonas to sound like.

Flame away…


BLACK FRANCIS NonStopErotik (Cooking Vinyl)

The nom de plume “Black Francis” made its first appearance as the alter-ego of Charles Michael Kittridge Thompson IV in 1987 in the Pixies’ official recorded debut – the mini-album, Come On Pilgrim. After the seminal band broke up in 1992, Black Francis morphed into Frank Black and Thompson used this name in 15 albums released over the course of 14 years.

Black Francis “returned” in 2007 with the Bluefinger album and the follow-up LP, NonStopErotik indicates that perhaps Black Francis is back to stay. Musically, NonStopErotik attempts to bridge the gap between the Pixies and Frank Black i.e. edgy guitars mixed with minimal electronic sounds, a process which probably began with the Frank Black Francis album, released in 2004, during the Pixies reunion.

Thus, tracks like Lake of Sin, Six Legged Man, Wild Son and When I Go Down On You (great title, eh?) reveals traces of the irreverent, hard-edged and atonal elements of the Pixies oeuvre. Whilst songs like O My Tidy Sum, Rabbits, Wheels and Corrina come across with the greater pop-rock sensibility that Frank Black represented. The album also includes a version of Wheels, the Flying Burrito Brothers classic.

Overall, NonStopErotik clearly establishes Charles Michael Kittridge Thompson IV/Black Francis/Frank Black/whatever as a true iconolastic rock singer-songwriter of our times. Good, quirky fun.

Check out Six Legged Man below.

Official Site



RHETT FRAZIER INC Escape From Dee-Troyt (Self-released)

Can you say “Old School”? Not in the sense of “dated” but “classic” and “timeless”. The kind of music that will always be “hip and cool” no matter what year you may be listening to it in.

“Vocalist and songwriter Rhett Frazier is Rhett Frazier. Drummer and synth whiz Donny Gruendler is ‘Inc.’ Together they form the soulful musical powerhouse Rhett Frazier Inc.” or so the duo’s website informs us.

For once, the hype is pretty much justified as Escape is chock full of 70s soul/funk grooves laced with jazz and even hard rock licks. Frazier is a versatile singer and is able to handle lover-man personas (ala Marvin Gaye/Al Green) with Faultline or hard-lovin’ belters like Am I Grooving U?, with equal distinction.

Despite focusing on R&B soul and associated sub-genres, Escape is an eclectic offering and the diverse moods and atmospheres conjured will suit most tastes. In addition, Escape will appeal to mainstream and indie listeners and that is an achievement in itself.

Free Download – U Can’t Stop

Official Site



HUMPBACK OAK Oaksongs (Self-released)

It has been annoying me no end that so many young musicians in Singapore have not heard of Humpback Oak. Not even my aspiring singer-songwriters. Well, its not their fault as until yesterday, the three Humpback Oak albums – Pain-stained Morning, Ghostfather and SideASideB – have all been out-of-print and the record label that released them, now defunct.

Well, I’m happy to report that in order to remedy this imperfect situation, the band has self-released (and self-assembled) this wonderful 4-disc retrospective boxset which includes the aforementioned LPs as well as a disc of rare tracks from their early “demo” cassettes (presented in mp3 format). I braved the extreme heat today to pick up my copy (No. 161/500) and it has definitely worth the time, money & effort.

The sound on the discs is immaculate, even the rarities come across well – maybe even better than how they first sounded on cassette! – and the sheer wealth of material here is staggering. Also included, the band’s earnest attempts to cover Dylan e.g. Like A Rolling Stone, If Not For You and of course, one of my favourite S-ROCK songs – Twang Bar Kings’ Daddy in the Lift – with Leslie Low still on helium (and you can also find the song on +65 Indie Underground compilation).

More than a mere exercise in nostalgia, Oaksongs is positive proof of the eminent worth of S-ROCK’s special 90s revival and a milestone in the musical history of our island nation. Not since the early days of independance did our rock and pop music reflect the creative and artistic edge that Singaporeans are capable of, like the 90s. If there’s anything to be nationalistic or patriotic about our country, it is the fact that Humpback Oak is/was one of our very own – to treasure and to proclaim and yes, to enjoy…

Apart from the fine music – the band has spared no effort in making Oaksongs a complete experience for its admirers. Thus, the boxset design is something you have to savour in 3-D (though the pix look cool, huh?) and over at the band’s official site, even newbies will be treated to tons of information to pick through and devour. Oaksongs surely qualifies as one of the best retrospective collections anywhere.




THE BESNARD LAKES The Besnard Lakes Are The Roaring Night (Jagjaguwar)

“Widescreen rock” is a genre I coined to describe bands/artists who paint their own new masterpieces on the broad canvas of five decades of pop-rock music. Comic fans will be aware that I “borrowed” the phrase from writer Warren Ellis who described his comic book series, the Authority as “widescreen comics”.

In my humble estimation, “widescreen rock” includes the likes of The Flaming Lips, Mercury Rev and the now defunct Grandaddy. Well, I’m glad to also induct Canadian band, The Besnard Lakes, into the Widescreen Rock Hall of Fame! I found the band’s sophomore effort – The Besnard Lakes Are The Dark Horses – akin to listening to Pink Floyd fronted by Brian Wilson, and one of the best albums of 2007.

This new album (due for release in early March), continues the fine form shown on Dark Horses, with the band drawing from the deep well of arcane rock, with references dropped to psychedelic rock, country-folk and prog throughout. With treated guitars, soaring vocals, electronic sound effects, old school keyboards, the songs here sound modern and classic at the same time – familiar and yet strange. The combination of the male-female vocal dynamic between Jace Lasek and Olga Goreas is priceless, as well.

Astute listeners will catch the heady influences of Neil Young, Beach Boys, Pink Floyd, Bob Dylan, the Bee Gees and the aforementioned widescreen rock bands in fine tracks like Chicago, Albatross, The Innocent and Light Up the Night. Modern rock fans into the Arcade Fire, Broken Social Scene and the Animal Collective (all current proponents of widesrceen rock) will definitely want to check out the Besnard Lakes.

Free download of Albatross here. A video below.

Official Site



GRAND ATLANTIC How We Survive (Laughing Outlaw)

Y’know, its about time for the excellent rock music of the 90s to make a comeback. Seriously folks, there’s the power pop of Teenage Fanclub and Superdrag, the dream pop of Ride and House of Love and the Britpop of Oasis and Blur, to name but few, to revive. Add these elements with a straight ahead rockist attitude and what you get is timeless kick-ass rock that makes no apologies and takes no prisoners.

Aussie band Grand Atlantic’s How We Survive LP contains all these wonderful factors, which makes it one of the most immediate albums I’ve heard so far this year. Songs like Coast is Clear, She’s A Dreamer and the title track cover all the right reference points for fans of 90s rock music.

This gratifying album is a briliant evocation of a special musical epoch and is thus highly recommended.

Music video of She’s A Dreamer below.

Official Site



TRACY SHEDD EP88 (Eskimo Kiss)

On her previous release, Cigarettes & Smoke Machines, singer-songwriter Tracy Shedd combined classic country-folk flavoured rock with a pinch of British post-punk edge. The new EP88, continues in this vein somewhat, with Shedd focusing on the piano as her main instrument and husband/guitarist James Tritten evoking the spectre of Joy Division, Echo & the Bunnymen and New Order.

Which makes for powerful, memorable mood-rock music, which sits comfortably in the seemingly polar genre settings. With melodies derived from a more traditional source, backed by atmospheric strings (guitar and violin), songs like the haunting City At Night, the driving Tokyo Rose and the pleasing West Inn Love will stand up to repeated plays.

Highly recommended.

Free download of City At Night. Video below

Official Site


ANNIE STEVENSON 2010 EP (Self-released)

Scottish pop-rockers – Annie Stevenson – take the best of old school punk and 90s Britpop to deliver spiky, edgy  and tuneful songs that recall the likes of the Clash and Blur. This 4-track self-released EP gets better with each subsequent listening and I personally am impressed with the range of Annie Stevenson’s music, without sacrificing accessibility. Songs like the quirky Country Killer and I’m the One You Hold contrast well with the more straightforward rockin’ Get Off the Street and TV Took My Soul. A band that promises much.

2010 EP is available for free download here. Get it whilst you can!



ORCHESTRAL MANOEUVRES IN THE DARK Architecture & Morality (Dindisc, 1981)

My first encounter with OMD (like many other post-punk bands) was  the documentary Urgh! A Music War and the wonderful Enola Gay. I believe I purchased a US printed LP that compiled tracks from the 1st two OMD albums (purely for Enola Gay, of course) and then not long after that, Architecture & Morality, which was released at the tail end of 1981.

It is probably one of my favourite albums of the synth-pop era and to this day is an LP I can easily (and comfortably) listen to from start to finish – a rarity.

The album opens with mechanical noises, jangly guitars and jarring mellotrons before Andy McCluskey weighs in with his trademark awkward vocals. Like most early OMD, it is a unique combination of the bitter and the sweet. The quaint She’s Leaving follows, as the band demonstrates that it is as deft at McCartneyesque melodicism as any 70s powerpop outfit. Then Souvenir comes in to deliver the perfect sugar-rush with a truly memorable synth riff and Paul Humpreys’ fey vocals.

The beauty of OMD was that it was able to write experimental instrumental sound collages as well as hit singles. This appealed greatly to a music lover like me that appreciated the Beatles and Pink Floyd, ELO and Genesis. Sealand and the title track were great examples of this ability. In between, these tracks were two singles concerning Joan of Arc – both were top 5 hits – and together with Souvenir (which claimed the #3 spot) ensured that Architecture & Morality would be OMD’s best selling album (to the tune of 3 million copies sold).

For me, OMD was a fine example of a band that were recording for the sheer love of the music. The image of the band was communciated through stylish album covers (by Peter Saville) and artful yet infectious songs, all the while maintaining an experimental edge to their idiosyncratic songs.

The album closes with the bouncing Georgia and the thoughtful The Beginning and the End.

OMD would never quite attain the peaks of this album, with each succeeding album marking the band’s inevitable commercial and critical decline. Still, for having produced Architecture & Morality, OMD deserve their place in the post-punk hall of fame.

A truly essential album.


THE HOUSTON BROTHERS The Archer (Chocolate Lab)

Yes, this duo actually consists of a pair of brothers – Justin and Mark Faircloth – and this six-track EP is a pleasing concoction of ambient country-folk-rock, informed by post-punk revival sensibilities. Therefore, resonating keyboards brighten mid-tempo rustic numbers like Confederate Dance and All We Ever Wanted. Elsewhere, the memorable chorus lines of Wasted Youth and Boyfriend will keep you returning to this enjoyable indie-pop EP time and time again.

Official Site


Check the video below of Fallen Leaves as the Houston Brothers demonstrated their famous live act.


EARL GREYHOUND Suspicious Package (Some)

Looking at retro-rock trio, Earl Greyhound, consisting of Matt Whyte (singer/guitarist), Kamara Thomas (bassist/singer) and Ricc Sheridan (drums), you’d think that they were living in a time warp. With a sound that unashamedly recalls classic rock of the 70s, their debut LP – Soft Target – mines Led Zeppelin prodigiously, the trio is an absolute dream for all lovers of that beloved epoch.

And whilst that debut effort may have drawn accusations of mimicry, the band has upped the ante by expanding the range of their sound on this 2nd album, to include prog (the 2-part The Eyes of Cassandra), stoner rock (Holy Immortality), jazz pop (Black Sea Vacation), country-blues balladry (Bill Evans) and folk (Out of Air). Fans of the first LP need not worry, there’s still enough Led Zep-fueled goodness for all you hard rocker out there.

Official Site


Check out the video of SOS, off the Soft Target album below.


There was a time when it didn’t really matter how a band looked like. It was all about the music. Throughout rock history, there have been bands who have flourished despite not possessing the right image or look. Of course, most of the time, this is not the case, especially in this day and age. A glance at the current top 20 albums on the Billboard Album Charts bears this out mostly, although the likes of Barry Manilow, Susan Boyle and Vampire Weekend are probably the exceptions – and I’d argue that for Manilow and Boyle, other non-musical factors come into play as well.

American Idol is now into its 10th season, and the reality show has been an absolute boon for record companies seeing as it delivers artists who are popular and can sing. With an image finely tuned over the course of an entire season and delivered to an accepting public, by the time the season is over, massive sales figures are almost assured.

Kris Allen is the reigning American Idol and has been cast as the conservative down-to-earth poster boy for the fundamentalist Christian right in the USA. Allen is also a pin-up for teenage girls everywhere, which befits an “idol”. Which to me as a music lover, is irrelevant, to the key question – what about the music?

These were the queries in my mind, even as I waited patiently (with the missus) somewhere at the back of Zirca Mega Club for Allen and band to turn up on stage. At the front, the screaming adolescent girls, were not making the wait comfortable or enjoyable, with shrieks greeting any movement on stage.

When Allen did appear, the noise levels went through the roof. The crowd lapped it all up – every movement, every knowing wink and every “are ya havin’ a good time?”, which Allen repeated ad nauseam throughout his hour-long set. Musically, Allen is a cross between Hootie & the Blowfish and Maroon 5, basically country-folk inflected rock tempered with clinical blue-eyed soul. At best, Allen and his band would go down well with the pub-circuit audiences here. Good thing that Allen does not need to rely on the craft of his songs, because they possessed very little. Like a good pub band, Allen and company ran through some covers – Michael Jackson’s Man in the Mirror and an awkward medley of the Swell Season’s Falling Slowly and U2’s With or Without You.

But then, Allen does not profess to be an artist does he? He is an American Idol – meaning that the music is secondary to his celebrity status and I’m sure he makes no apologies for that. And why should he? It’s not his problem. It is ours…

We left even as the kids were baying for an encore and I was deeply contemplating the formula which the producers of American Idol have so successfully concocted. There is little doubt that those who paid S$99 to see Kris Allen got their money’s worth as Allen definitely gave the people what they wanted. After all, he only had to appear.

Yes, it seems troubling that the instrinsic worth of Allen is purely invested in his image/looks rather than his talent/skills but in our celebrity-obsessed pop culture where form is put above substance, you do always get what you want…

Thanks to Shaz and Midas Productions for the tickets.


ZALLEN Crash Landing (Self-released)

With hard work, passion and belief, genuine talent will always rise to the top. Not necessarily in commercial terms but those “in the know” will recognise the true pop-artistic value of musicians like Zallen aka Michael Allen Jones. While lesser artists struggle to find a distinctive voice or the technical skill to deliver material of any note, Zallen takes his Bowiesque space-rock into stratosphere with an attention to detail that belies its low-key and austere origins.

Zallen is a prolific artist, having released six albums since 2002, which encompasses most of what passes for classic pop-rock e.g. glam, powerpop – y’know melodic rock ‘n’ roll. On Crash Landing, Zallen’s inventive song-writing continues to shine, keeping things interesting all the way through its thirteen tracks. Permeating through Crash Landing is a keen sense of humour that belies the serious work ethic that Zallen has poured into its creation.

From the opening slinky I Had A Dream (resplendent with cowbell!) to the closing downbeat Blue Monday, Zallen traverses the gamut of pop-rock genres and stylings which will have students of the forms salivating. Listen to Crash Landing as an entire whole and the pleasurable experience will be complete. Good stuff.

Official site