Wednesday, December 3, 2014

REVIEW: The Popguns - Pop Fiction

In my opinion, Brighton's beloved The Popguns were at the head of the class for guitar pop in the late '80s and '90s.  The intertwined guitars were loud, but not abrasive, and as regular readers here know, if I compare another female vocalist to Wendy (Morgan) Pickles, I am giving her one of my higher compliments.  As a fan, you tend to regard such a band as an old friend, but frozen in time.  You visit them from time to time, fall in love with the music all over again and bask in the memories of time and place.  If the band reunites years later, you feel joy about the possibilities of new music, but trepidation that the magic may be gone, abilities and inspiration eroded, and motivations compromised.  Those worries are understandable, and all too often fulfilled.  Happily, however, they do not apply to The Popguns, or their stellar new album for Matinee Recordings, Pop Fiction.  The very evident genius of this group is that they know what they do very well, and they keep doing it better.  There are new songs and, years down the road, new perspectives.  But when you have a vocalist like Wendy, excellent guitarists and top flight songwriting, the strategy cannot be questioned.  And stitching it together is the confidence and sincerity of the performances.

The album opens with strength -- the ringing guitars and floating vocals of "City Lights" evoking an the end of the day and the promise of the evening.  The pace picks up with the appealingly chugging "If You Ever Change Your Mind", telling a story of almost-not-quite-maybe-never mind love (I think most of us can relate to that).  Track three is the buoyant lover's plea, "Lovejunky", which we reviewed when it was released earlier this year as a single (review here).  Next is "Still Waiting for the Winter", a thoroughly captivating addendum to their long ago hit "Waiting for the Winter".  Wendy sings "if you're still waiting for the winter, then you already missed her / And she's never coming back again / Yeah I heard that she's OK, still a world away / Were you hoping for the rain?", and then closes with "I felt the coming of the winter, my heart began to shiver / Cos we're never coming back again / We're already on our way, half a world away / never coming back again".  It is one of my favorite songs on the album.

"Alpha Romeo" is a melodic and bittersweet cautionary tale of fame and life on the road, apparently inspired by American musician Chet Baker.  "Out of Sight" and "Not Your Night Tonight" dial it down to contemplate love and relationships after the lustful teens and 20s.  In the former the narrator muses about whether her long distance lover thinks of her when they are apart.  In the latter, she advises a hopeful suitor that she isn't interested.  The pace picks up again for two songs that also seem paired.  In "Leaning on the Backline" Wendy takes a wistful look back at old times and past friendship.  In "Something Going On, over buzzing guitars, the narrator expresses irritation with an long ago acquaintance who seems to want something in which she has no interest.  Fittingly, the closing track, "I'll See You Later", tells of a woman who calls time on a relationship as she looks forward to the possibilities of the future; meanwhile, the band rocks out.

Pop Fiction finds The Popguns supremely accomplished, fully inspired and on top of their game.  The album is available in CD and digital formats from the ever tasteful Matinee Recordings.  If you want to stream it before you buy it, hit the band's Bandcamp link below.

The Popguns are Wendy Pickles, Simon Pickles, Greg Dixon, Pat Walkington, Tony Bryant, and Kate Mander.

Matinee Recordings page for Pop Fiction

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