Trawling through the “Best of 2013” lists that proliferate this time of year is a great way to discover new and interesting music. However, it also means that you’re going to be discovering mostly the kind of music that rock critics like. And rock critics, not unlike literary critics, tend to be adolescently obsessed with what’s considered “fashionable” and “cool” and “deep,” and less interested in what might actually bring the listener joy. Certainly classicist pop-rock doesn’t fall under the heading of “cool” these days; thus do great albums like the Electric Soft Parade’s IDIOTS (2013) go almost entirely unheralded. And so, in the grand tradition of sharing music, it takes a friend with good taste to turn you on to one of the year’s best records.
The term “Beatlesesque” is a dangerous one for two reasons: 1) it is hopelessly overused, and 2) it sets an impossibly high standard. That said, I’m hard-pressed to find a better phrase to describe IDIOTS: melodic, mid-tempo pop-rock with shimmering harmonies, clear guitar lines, and giant, memorable choruses. What could be more Beatlesesque than that? Comparisons can be made to specific Fab Four songs: the gloriously upbeat “Summertime in My Heart” calls to mind “And Your Bird Can Sing” with its twinned guitar riff, whereas “The Corner of Highdown & Montefiore” recalls “Hey Jude” in its epic gorgeousness, or even more accurately, George Harrison’s “Isn’t It a Pity.”
This is hardly slavish imitation, however. Even as songs like the jaunty “Mr. Mitchell” or the unpredictable-yet-tuneful “Welcome to the Weirdness” contain echoes of everything from the Beach Boys to Badfinger, from Queen to Crowded House, from 10cc to Teenage Fanclub to ELO, brothers Alex and Thomas White rarely sound exactly like anyone except themselves, unless it’s a more sophisticated version of Fountains of Wayne. They have Collingwood & Schlesinger’s encyclopedic knowledge of classic sounds and unparalleled ear for a hook, with the added bonus of being able to write a song that isn’t a joke for once. Any of these ten songs would be an undisputed highlight of any FOW album; put them all together on a single record and you’ve got one for the ages.
Sometimes we listen to music to escape. Sometimes we listen to it to help us process our anger or frustration. Sometimes we listen to it to be challenged intellectually. And sometimes we listen to it, quite simply, to make us happy. IDIOTS may not pass the critics’ coolness test, but I can all but guarantee that it will make you very, very happy.
- The Best of 2013 (thelardnerring.wordpress.com)
- One Writer’s View on the Top Albums of 2013 (Part 1) (neonobservatory.wordpress.com)
- Too busy to blog (jacksandlasses.wordpress.com)
- The best 50 albums of 2013, according to andrewdsweeney: the full list (andrewdsweeney.wordpress.com)
- Bonnaroo Preview: BrakesBrakesBrakes (outtheother.typepad.com)