Sunday, May 17, 2009

221. Tinted Windows: Tinted Windows (2009)

Early in rock history and on into its mid-point, the supergroup was a viable second act in a musician's career. In fact, in many cases the supergroup became more notable than the original bands the members hailed from. Take Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Asia, and Bad Company for example.

In modern times the supergroup has not only gotten rarer, it's become more of a lark, something intended to kill time between projects. The Traveling Wilburys, Golden Smog, and the Thorns were all great, but temporary. Some would define Velvet Revolver and Audioslave as supergroups, but I wouldn't. To me those bands were rock 'n' roll Frankensteins: Same body, different head.

A couple of years ago I wrote this post, wherein I ran with Chuck Klosterman's challenge to build an ideal supergroup. My answer now would be a little bit different than it was then, but I can guarantee you, I would have never have thought to put James Iha (guitar), Adam Schlesinger (bass), Bun E. Carlos (drums), and Taylor Hanson (vocals) in the same band. On first blush it seems an unlikely combination, but with a little more thought it all makes sense.

Carlos' Cheap Trick has been carrying the power pop torch for over 30 years. Schlesinger and the Fountains of Wayne were a power pop band in disguise for their first two albums. They ripped off that disguise in 2003, and had a big hit called Stacey's Mom. Smashing Pumpkins certainly weren't about harmonies and handclaps, but guitarist Iha did release a '70s styled pop album called Let It Come Down in '98 and he and Schlesinger have been business partners in Scratchie Records since '95. Of course the wild card is Taylor Hanson's inclusion. But even this makes a weird kind of sense. Besides the tiny fact that he's a damn good vocalist, most folks ignore that Hanson were more authentic than your average teen sensation. They wrote their own songs and played their own instruments, and as adults developed into a strong power pop group. That's how it all fits.

No further proof is needed than the unified sound of Tinted Windows' self-titled debut. The songs are full of clean, buzzy guitars, tight harmonies, and strong, memorable melodies. There's not a stinker in the bunch. Schlesinger takes the bulk of the writing load, which helps that unity, but contributions from Iha and Hanson fit in seamlessly.

Of Schlesinger's nine songs, five are variations on the following theme: I like this really hot girl even though she's bat sh*t crazy and won't give me the time of day. One wonders if Schlesinger's love life is really that rough, or if he's just writing these kind of lyrics because he knows that's the best power pop songs are always about making bad romantic choices The song titles tell the story: Messing With My Head, Can't Get A Read On You, and Take Me Back. The best of the bunch is album opener Kind Of a Girl, which takes three mere minutes to trace a progression of intrigue to obsession to annoyance to abborhance.

Taylor Hanson also gets in on the act with this only solo composition (he co-wrote Take Me Back). Nothing To Me is a bitter kiss off that hews a little closer to a Hanson-sound than the rest of the record, but the melodic shift on the chorus is pure Cheap Trick.

Schlesinger also offers some positive love songs, including Dead Serious, Doncha Wanna, Without Love, and We Got Something.

Iha's new offerings, his first solo songwriting efforts in 11 years, are somewhat surprising. Cha Cha is a chugging little ditty that could be about a special someone or a car. Back With You, which is slightly more representative of his occasional dreamy contributions to Smashing Pumpkins albums and his gentle solo work, is the closest the band comes to a ballad. It lulls in the verses and soars on the chorus.

The iTunes download of the album includes New Cassette, a tune that's not about romances, good or bad. Instead, it's all about the joy of being a music fan. The song's narrator has procured a copy of a band's new album (on cassette, naturally) and though he isn't bowled over at first, his feelings change after multiple listens. "Now I can't get it out of my head / And I'm sure it's your best one yet / Yeah there's ten songs I'll never forget / on your new cassette."

If you're a power pop fan, it won't take you multiple listens to declare your love for Tinted Windows. They're not going to single-handedly bring the supergroup back to prominence, but they've still done the concept proud.

Grade: B+
Fave Song: We Got Something

3 comments:

Allen L. said...

Like good bubblegum, this one had great flavor to start. On second listen was even better. Then, I put the gum on the bedpost and forgot I even had it.
Good review.
I look forward to your take on Green Day.

Paul Allen said...

See, I had the opposite reaction. After a few listens, bits of the melodies started occurring to me here and there throughout the day. But that's probably just 'cause they were fresh in my consciousness. The songs are good, but time will they'll be still rattling around in my head when they have newer competition.

We'll see if I have a review of Green Day in me. I've only listened once so far and it's a lot to digest...

Allen L. said...

I probably should have added that I am always happy when a track pops up on my pod. And I keep meaning to add it to a more stable playlist. But I keep forgetting.
It's good stuff. I just think it could be better. It's like a good Cheap Trick album covered by Fountains of Wayne. or something.