1990 is a big year for me. As in, it’s the year I was born. It’s also a year whose Top 5 reveals another major galaxy in my musical universe: power pop. Now, I love experimental music, progressive epics, synthesizers and sequenced beats, Wagnerian operas and Baroque inventions. But there are few better things in this world than a three minute pop song with chiming guitars and a big chorus. And the early-to-mid 90s, whatever its other musical shortcomings (read: grunge), was a great time for power pop: Matthew Sweet, Jellyfish, the Posies, Teenage Fanclub, Adam Schmitt… You can expect to see more of it.
5. DEAR 23 (The Posies)
Ken Stringfellow and Jonathan Auer almost name-check the Beatles with album highlight “Golden Blunders.” Then, two years later, Ringo Starr would take that song, titled after a song he played on, in the style of the band he played in, and cover it on his comeback Time Takes Time. Surreal. On the whole, though, the Fabs’ influence is only felt indirectly, as is the case for most power pop. The likes of Big Star and Badfinger loom larger, especially in the ringing guitars and pitch-perfect harmonies.
4. GOODBYE JUMBO (World Party)
Vocally, Karl Wallinger reminds me a lot of Jeff Lynne, and his songs, with their bold melodies and lush arrangements, definitely have a bit of an ELO feel to them. But you get quite a lot of the Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan here as well, not to mention shades of Wallinger’s mid-80s association with the Waterboys. But his wry send-up of “Please Mr. Postman” in the midst of “When the Rainbow Comes” tells you everything you need to know: Wallinger is aware of, indeed, indebted to, the past, but he’s his own man.
3. ARMCHAIR THEATRE (Jeff Lynne)
Speaking of ELO, Jeff Lynne was pretty much on top of the world in 1990. Most of his energy since 1986’s Balance of Power seemed to have been channeled into producing and writing for/with pretty much every musician who’d ever influenced him. As it turned out, though, he’d also been writing some fine songs of his own, including the infectious “Every Little Thing,” the soaring “Lift Me Up,” and the truly gorgeous “Blown Away,” making for his best album since ELO’s Time.
2. ENLIGHTENMENT (Van Morrison)
As you might guess from its title, Enlightenment isn’t exactly a radical departure from Van’s spiritually-infused albums of the 1980s. Perhaps the biggest difference is that here, paeans to God (“Youth of 1,000 Summers”) alternate with more corporeal love songs (“She’s My Baby”) and uptempo R&B shouters (“Real Real Gone”). Their common denominator? An intense, indefinable yearning that reaches its twin apotheoses in the majestic “Avalon of the Heart” and the nostalgic, imagistic “In the Days Before Rock n’ Roll.”
1. BELLYBUTTON (Jellyfish)
It seems to me that Bellybutton, and its follow-up Spilt Milk, have exercised an influence that far exceeds their modest commercial success, setting the template for retro revivalists for literally decades to come – to call something “Beatles-esque” anymore often means “Jellyfish-esque.” For all its 60s trappings though–and there are plenty of them, from the technicolor cover art to the Beach Boys harmonies to the jaunty harpsichords–this is timeless pop music of the highest caliber. Whether it was released in 1966, 1990, or 2014 is irrelevant.
- Jellyfish Tale #3: Bellybutton Track-by-Track (yerdoingreat.wordpress.com)
- My Top Albums: Jeff Lynne – Armchair Theatre (andrexblogroll.wordpress.com)
- Karl Wallinger of World Party Is the Ultimate Studio Rat (brucepollockthewriter.com)
- Van Morrison: Enlightenment (1990) (davidduffin.wordpress.com)
- The Posies (agoldfishcalledregret.wordpress.com)