Holy moly. Holy Supertramp.
It’s easy to forgot that Powerpop was once a chart-dominating, money-making blockbuster genre of screaming fangirls and tight jeans with its own significant place in the history of music. Of course, if you’re a fan, it’s also far too easy to get caught up in the romanticist memory of Apple Records and Badfinger and The Raspberries and Big Star et al.
And after Queen saturated the market with their own prolific output, and after Jeff Lynne threw the kitchen sink into his productions, the reaction to Kurt Cobain in the 1990s left us with 3 categorically perfect powerpop albums; Jellyfish’s Spilt Milk, Weezer’s Pinkerton, and Ben Folds Five’s Whatever & Ever Amen. Since then, many have tried, and all have stuttered far from the finish line.
But it’s still nice to still get powerpop releases. After all, what could be more enjoyable?
On Busting Visions, the 2nd album from Canada’s Zeus, there’s a fine line driven between happy pop tunes and retro throwback. The record is completely bubblegum, completely lightweight, and, more importantly, a hell of a lot of fun. It’s inoffensive and catchy; the kind of album you could take home to meet your parents. But it’s also an ambitious little fucker, piling absolutely everything into the production like Roy Thomas Baker on a cocaine bender, along with the expected thousands upon thousands of vocal harmonies filling every free space. Stop The Train channels Zeus’s inner Electric Light Orchestra rather incredibly, while Love In A Game is the best song Steely Dan haven’t written this year. It’s all cut straight from a particularly British cloth though, coming out like the secret adopted triplet of Wings’ Venus & Mars, Queen’s Sheer Heart Attack and George Harrison’s Dark Horse (his most criminally underappreciated album, certainly when compared to the tedious and overpraised ones ruined by Phil Spector.) Unsurprisingly, the members of Zeus have a more sustainable day job – that is, they act as the backing band to Jason Collett, frontman of Broken Social Scene, which this record sounds nothing like.
With Eyes Closed is one of the best here, a semi-dark folk rocker that owes more than a little to The Hollies during their Evolution/Butterfly psych-pop phase, Graham Nash’s last years with the band before forming CS&N. The highest compliment that can be paid to the authenticity is that it doesn’t sound retro so much as it sounds like something from 1978. Opener Are You Gonna Waste My Time? even manages to hike itself into Joe Walsh territory for its few short minutes – though it’s also one of the longer songs here…
…at a marathon 3 minutes 49 seconds. Zeus may need to consider changing their name to Dream Theater.
However, Cool Blue, the most Beatlesque thing on here, is where all the bad things about Busting Visions collide into themselves and, ultimately, it’s also where the album’s wheels fall off and it spirals towards its untimely death. Amongst the lazy songwriting (Hello Tender Love) and the downright awful (Messenger’s Way) there is some awful, truly awful, amateur guitar work with drifts away into endless, cheap noodling constantly. It doesn’t fit anywhere and it catapults the mood of Busting Visions from playful fun to reaching for the skip button.
The intentions of the band to create such un-cool music are commendable, and it clearly comes from the right kind of passionate place; but you can’t help but feel it’s all just a little TOO ambitious for Zeus right now.
Essentially, what Busting Visions gives is a second rate version of fellow Canadian powerpoppers Sloan. And why listen to Zeus when you can drag out Sloan’s Parallel Play or Never Hear The End Of It to hear how retro albums can be done flawlessly?
But hey, it took Sloan five lp’s before they became a great band. Maybe Zeus are the same.
Not for everyone, but a primarily enjoyable listen.
For fans of: Josh Fix, Sloan, Supertramp
Released August 6th/Mar 27th