Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Various Artists -- Titan: It's All Pop!

Various artists -- Titan: It’s All Pop! (Numero Group)

Had I written this review after only two spins of this two disc set, it wouldn’t have been very favorable at all. This collection of everything recorded for Titan (i.e., released and unreleased stuff) is four square power pop. Those who are allergic to anything in the vein of The Raspberries are best advised to stay away.

The Titan label achieved cult status. The label heads, Mark Prellberg and Tom Sorrells, mined the talent in Kansas City, Missouri and the surrounding area and put out a succession of flop singles. And a flop compilation, Just Another Pop Album, which kept the flame alive for the tiny label, long after it went under.

The Numero Group, known mostly for its great compilations of obscure soul music, but also for the fab fifth volume of Jordan Oakes’ Yellow Pills series, gives Titan the deluxe treatment -- full liner notes and careful mastering. These sides might not have had top flight engineering and mixing, but they all sound designed for a transistor radio, and the two CDs accentuate that attribute to the fullest.

While a few more plays have made me look more favorably on this collection, I must say that not every song recorded for Titan deserved to be heard again. It’s not so much a matter of the music here not having aged well, as it’s that a fair amount of the songs on Titan were not that good.

Moreover, for the most part, the label’s acts worked a very narrow seam in the power pop mines. I suppose you can hear some Dwight Twilley Band and Pezband in these tracks, along with the aforementioned Raspberries, but the artists here were good craftsman, rather than innovators.

The best of the bunch was Secrets*, whose sole album I snagged in a cut out bin based on a positive Trouser Press review. And as enthusiastic as the scribe was about Secrets*, they weren’t Shoes or The Knack or The Sorrows by any stretch of the imagination.

What they were was solid meat-and-potatoes power pop and the crafters of the strongest hooks on this collection. The whole shebang starts out with the strongest Secrets (I’m dropping the gimmicky asterisk now) song, “It’s Your Heart Tonight”. The song starts with a simple riff, the drums move on in, and then the singer intently gives advice to a buddy, before heading into the chorus, which works a variation on the opening chords. For a song with such pep, the lyrics are cautionary, painting this woman (and perhaps all women) as a maneater. Hmm...

The Secrets had some other songs of almost equal caliber, such as “Radio Heart” and “Get Your Radio”, which are appropriate, since they were the Titan act who most deserved to hit the airwaves. The two other artists who shine the most on this comp are Gary Charlson and The Boys.

Charlson kicks off the second disc with the Dwight Twilley composition “Shark”. This song has a bit of a ‘50s rock and roll vibe with great lead guitar accents. The dreamy melodic middle eight takes this song out of the revival context and into classic pop territory. I also really dig the dramatic “Burning In You”, which sports a terrific arrangement. It’s a shame Charlson never got to wax a full LP.

Meanwhile, The Boys sometimes did not sound like men, due to a reliance on high pitched vocals. The band is a bit more hit and miss than Charlson or Secrets, but the good songs are really good. “We’re Too Young” starts off with some killer harmony vocals before moving into a smoother and more anglophilic take on teen angst than The Scruffs. The falsetto is out in full force on “Hold Me”, which sports strong lead guitar work and a breathless quality that exemplifies the longing that this song is all about.

Props must also be given to J.P. McClain & The Intruders, who verge, at times, upon new wave territory (a la Elvis Costello and Joe Jackson) and the one ringer in the bunch, former Raspberry Scott McCarl, whose two numbers are swell, especially the killer “I Think About You”.

My final verdict is that this set is really for ultra rabid power pop fans. Titan found some good local talent, but there aren’t enough great songs here. To think that not too far away, a few years down the road, Fools Face sprang up out of Springfield, and outdid all of these guys. Maybe someone can convince Numero to fund a Fools Face box.

1 comment:

Bill said...

I agree wholeheartedly with your review; going into this had me expecting Yellow Pills: Prefill Part II but it's far, far from that. Going the one-label route is always a gamble and it just doesn't pay off here. A lot of the material just didn't grab my attention or warrant any type of repeated listening.