Album: The Kings are Here
Artist: The Kings
Price: 75 cents
Place: KARM, Chapman Highway (RIP)
Perhaps as many as 50 or 60 percent of the musical genres I see name-checked at Pitchfork and other such hipster outposts are utterly mysterious to me. What is the difference between "shoe gaze" and "neo-shoe gaze?" How is "psychedelic folk" different from "freak folk?" Who knows? Who cares?
And yet some genre labels are very useful. The label "Norwegian death metal" attached to a band screams "stay away" (but only after you watch the callow Nordic lads' disgusting amateur vivisection videos on the Internet). And of course "adult contemporary" means "John Denver without the edge."
Then there's "power pop." Power pop is unpretentiously accessible, guitar-driven, melodic rock. The Beatles are the lodestar for power pop fans and practitioners alike. Fans is an especially appropriate descriptor for power-pop aficionados, as they take their music very seriously and tend toward overwroughtness. Many are convinced that the premature dissolution of Sugarbomb and the fact that Big Star never made it really big are tragedies on par with the Bhola cyclone and the Hindenburg conflagration.
But good power pop reminds me why these fanatics are the way they are, and why I am one of them. The fact is, there's nothing quite like a good power-pop tune. Canada's the Kings wrote one transcendent power-pop song. It's called "This Beat Goes On/Switchin' to Glide," (the "/" is there because it's actually two songs on the LP), and it's on the album The Kings are Here, which I found earlier this summer at the KARM shop on Chapman Highway (which sadly, has gone the way of the late great Sugarbomb). I vaguely remember the song from 1980, when it got substantial airplay and landed the Kings on American Bandstand. The song is everything good power pop should be—short, catchy, crunchy, accessible, and about nothing but having a good time. The lead singer sounds like a grittier, whinier Robin Zander, and the band comprises some good players. The song is worth the price of the album (which is not saying much since the record cost 75 cents).
The Kings are Here is defensible as something more than nostalgia. Writing even one great power pop song is difficult (this is why Tommy Tutone still tours and sells tickets—"867-5309/Jenny" is so damn good people don't care that it's the only song they recognize), and the two lead tracks here are sublime even 30 years later. The rest of the album is respectable too. "Run Shoes Running" and "Don't Let Me Know" are solid pop songs that would have been at home on an early Cars album, and "Partyitis" is enjoyable and hooky and fun. The rest of the album is always pleasant and never boring. The Kings, I recently learned, are still out there plying their wares, mostly in Ontario, Canada. They probably play "This Beat Goes On/Switchin' to Glide" once during their show and once again for their encore. But if this album is an indication, the songs in between are pretty good, too.