May 03, 2005

Amateur Music Review: Brendan Benson - Mardo

Brendan Benson – The Alternative to Love

Boiled down to its essence, power pop is the never-ending quest to duplicate the three-minute magic of the first few Beatles’ tunes. It began in the 60’s with bands like the Beau Brummels and Badfinger, then on to the 70’s with the Raspberries, Big Star and Cheap Trick. The 80’s were a goldmine thanks to the invention of college radio, where the Replacements ruled. The torch was carried in the 90’s by Matthew Sweet and Teenage Fanclub. Power pop has a very definitive formula: smart guys, chiming guitars and an essential romantic longing. The genre has always been very influential; bands from the New Wave 80’s to modern-day emo have mined old Big Star albums. It’s never been particularly lucrative though. It’s no accident that one of Paul Westerberg’s best songs told the story of “Alex Chilton” the idol of millions.

The latest in this line is Brendan Benson with his snappy and pleasing The Alternative to Love. Like most power-pop albums, there is no new ground broken here. That isn’t the point. The point is 12 shiny, radio-friendly pop songs. And this album practically begs to be bursting out of car radios. Both the title track, with its Faces-like guitar intro and shimmering organ break, and the Phil Spector-ish “The Pledge” are just too damned perfect for today’s modern Balkanized radio formats. The first single, the new-wavish “Spit it Out”, with it’s charming alarm clock sound effects is already fading away without notice.

And that’s the really awful thing. None of the great power-pop acts have ever made any real impact, save for the slight but brilliant moment when Cheap Trick’s “Live at Budokan” was released. Maybe someday…

Mardo – Mardo


Do you yearn for the halcyon days of the early-70’s? Do you agree with Jim Carey when he demanded MTV play some more Foghat? Do you need a new tape for your 1974 Chevy Camaro? Do you think it’s a damned shame more people haven’t experienced the psychedelic roar of bands like Vanilla Fudge and Blue Cheer? Do you need, I mean really need a cover of “I Want a New Drug” featuring decidedly non-Huey Lewis lyrics about wanting to “huff paint and sniff glue”? Most important: Do you want your rock, (excuse me, RAWK) served in thick, meaty slabs?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions Mardo is for you. The band, a power-trio led by brothers Aron and Robert Mardo, serve up a heaping helping of old-school metal. This is an undeniable throwback album. And it’s good too, for what it is. The “I Want a New Drug” cover is pretty pointless, but that is overshadowed by originals like the sneering “Anyone but Me” and the ZZ Top-style boogie of “Cold Creepin’”. The brothers also show some interest in expanding past the style they’ve established: the vocal harmonies of “Poor Paul” are surprisingly intricate, and “Broken Bones” contains just a smidgen of thrash. The best thing that Mardo has going for it is brevity. Unlike the real early-70’s metal bands, they keep things short and punchy. No extended solos here save for the mostly instrumental “Catch a Thief”, a track that lays down a nice Sabbath-like groove but never really goes anywhere.

This album is a must-own only if you’re a big proto-metal fan, an interesting diversion if not.

If it only came on 8-track, then it would be perfect.

Posted by Frinklin at May 3, 2005 05:06 PM
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