Saturday, May 22, 2004

37. Olympic Hopefuls - The Fuses Refuse To Burn (2004)

Olympic Hopefuls are a Twin Cities super-group of sorts, made up of members of Vicious Vicious, Kid Dakota, and Alvastar. Their new album is a crackerjack example of what makes power pop my very favorite kind of music.

As I write that, I realize I've thrown the term "power pop" in there without much explanation, so before I go on about this record I'd like to offer a definition:

Power pop (noun), 1. A form of rock 'n' roll music derived from the Beatles and Beach Boys whose proprietors usually obtain cult status among record geeks (and few others); 2. A form of rock 'n' roll music containing a majority of the following: handclaps, harmonies, keyboards, memorable guitar riffs and vocal melodies, lyrics about being misunderstood or how girls make no sense. See Cheap Trick, Big Star, Badfinger, Marshall Crenshaw, Jellyfish, Matthew Sweet, Fountains Of Wayne, et al.

The definition is a large one and could encompass countless acts. For example, would R.E.M. be considered power pop? There are definitely elements of it in their music, but unfortunately the there is a firm cap on the amount of depressing slow songs and electronic experimentation a band can indulge in. It's a narrow category for sure, and thus very difficult for bands to adhere to, let alone find any commercial success in (hello, XTC).

Oh, power pop has produced its share of one-hit-wonders: Katrina and the Waves, The Romantics, The New Radicals. And some have broken through the mainstream, like The Bangles and Barenaked Ladies. But as the definition states, power pop is really commercial suicide. You are most likely putting yourself in a category that will allow you to gain critical acclaim and a rabid, small fanbase who will rightly complain about how good your songs would sound on the radio.

So I admire and feel sorry for any new band that comes along and tries to stick to the formula. And here are Olympic Hopefuls! Songs like Drain The Sea (using an extended sailing metaphor to define the state of a relationship), Shy (where the keyboards buoy up our bashful narrator), and Holiday (playing the happy-music-depressed-lyrics card impressively) are all power pop in the strictest sense.

But the band is not all by-the-book. Power pop lyrics usually paint their narrators as painfully sensitive and (as mentioned above) shy, such as Marshall Crenshaw's There She Goes Again With Another Guy and Fountains Of Wayne's Red Dragon Tattoo. Olympic Hopefuls shake that up by adding some bad boy edge. Motobike's narrator shows little concern for the people who are so worried about him hurting himself, and Whisper is a full-out slacker song, where the girl is the goody-two-shoes and the guy is the troublemaker. Given that your typical power pop band members (and fans) are usually the nerdy guys who like the rebellious girl, this is practicality unprecedented!

Olympic Hopefuls have two songwriters, Darren Jackson and Erik Appelwick. For the entire 10 songs they trade off writing duties and neither lets the other down. Applewick's compositons might be the catchier (the afforementioned Shy and Motobike being the standouts), but Jackson's contributions could almost be read as an ongoing story. Holiday contains the couple meeting ("I heard you tried to hit on me / it's such a pity I was too damn drunk to see it"), Drain The Sea is about them falling in love, Whisper is where disaffection comes in, Trust Fund is the inevitable condemnation, and Stoned Again is the bittersweet goodbye song (it hits its zenith with these lines: "Do not forget to remember / I'm gonna write you lots of love letters / And I'm gonna call you everyday on the phone / And I'm gonna make you feel so much better / And I'm gonna make you regret you left me alone").

Overall, with catchy hooks, handclaps, catchy keyboard lines, and singable lyrics, the record is purely joyful and addictive. Am I hopeful that Olympic Hopefuls can be another band that makes good for Minneapolis all across America? Not really. They just aren't designed for that. But do I think they'll develop a rabid, small fanbase of record geeks? For sure! And their songs would sound great on the radio.

Rating: A-
Fave Song: Shy

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