Sunday, September 25, 2011

Darker Days - The Connells

Darker Days
The Connells
Black Park  BPR 001

I was only vaguely aware of the Connells in the 1980s which is odd considering how much I loved jangle pop back then.  I read about them in rock mags and probably heard a song or two on the radio, but I didn't become a fan until the 1990s and then purely by accident.  A friend of mine worked on a film called "Bandwagon."  It was directed by a guy who was a drummer in an early version of the Connells and the movie was based on his experiences with the band.  The lead singer of the Connells, Doug MacMillan, had a prominent acting role in the film.  My friend invited me to a screening of the film and I really loved it.  I was so impressed by it that I started buying the Connells' records and fell pretty hard.  This was their debut album and it is an impressive one.  The group takes the jangly sound of folk-rock and marries it to power pop with irresistible results, track after track of catchy, propulsive pop bliss.  The opening track, "Hats Off," is a subtle attack on Ronald Reagan.  It never mentions him by name, it could apply to any likable dimwit stuck in the past.  It is one of my favorite songs on the album.  "Holding Pattern" is a more enigmatic song, it seems to be about confusion and inertia.  "Seven" is also vague with dreamy lyrics about a relationship.  "Unspoken Words" is an introspective song about perception and feeling.  "Darker Days (Version)" is my favorite song on the album and classic Connells.  With its driving beat and chiming guitars, MacMillan's emotional vocal and soaring background vocals, it takes hold of me and never lets go.  It is a song about escape and indecision.  "Much Easier" is another song of inertia and indecision, the lyrics on this album sum up the experience of being a confused young person so well that listening to this album makes me feel like I'm back in college again.  "1934" sounds different than the other songs presumably because it is written by guitarist/keyboardist George Huntley and the other songs are all written by Michael Connell.  I think is a about a prisoner awaiting his release in 1934.  "Brighter Worlds" is another mysterious song with a theme of escape.  The album finishes with the short instrumental "Dial It."  This album is very much a product of its time.  Aside from a couple of songs, the lyrical intent is hard to understand, the songs are vague but evocative, producing moods and impressions without revealing concrete meanings, typical of college rock in that era.  It is not as surreal as R.E.M. but it works in a similar way.  Lines stand out to me but overall the songs tend to disappear into a lyrical fog.  I do like that though, I find it stimulating.  Musically, it is delicious jangle pop, pure rock and roll cotton candy, light, sticky and sweet.  The songwriting is a little weak, there is a sameness to much of the music.  It sounds great while I'm listening, but most of it doesn't stay with me when the record is over.  They would have more memorable songs on their later albums.  Nonetheless it is a thoroughly enjoyable record, a very worthy debut album.  Recommended for fans of Let's Active and Game Theory.

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