Monday, July 12, 2010

Pop Goes the Record

Pop music has gotten a really bad rap. I blame Britney Spears. I blame The Archies. I blame M.

Wait – no. Not that last one.

Whereas once pop music, a simple derivative of the phrase "popular music," plainly described radio-friendly songs with distinct youth appeal, it has now become cultural shorthand for radio-friendly songs with distinct youth appeal and absolutely no inherent artistic merit. And that's a goddamn shame.

Because, from the very dawn of the age of the modern songwriter, pop has been a viable musical force. From Small Faces and Big Star to Cheap Trick and The Replacements, pop has proven itself to be just that: modern music. A rejection of classical tropes and high-minded motifs in favor of the understated strength of verse-chorus-verse. A music not necessarily low in substance, but rather high in charm.

And though proud pop fans like me have found ourselves forced to explicitly state our leanings with descriptors like indie pop or guitar pop or Townshend's classic power pop, we know the importance of the strong hook. Of the sing-along chorus. Of the lead riff.

Marc with a C is a lot like me. He's a man unafraid of exposing his pop leanings. But unlike me, Marc does so within the bounds of the art form itself, and his recently released Pop! Pop! Pop! is an 11-track pledge of allegiance to the Empire of Pop.

The album kicks off with the tuneful "Holly Vincent," a pop ballad in the style of any good guitar-based ditty named after a girl. Of course, this one is named after the frontwoman of punk-poppers Holly and the Italians. It makes a number of clever references to her 1980 breakthrough song "Tell That Girl to Shut Up," all the while touting the global appeal of a solid pop offering.

From there things stay in that distinctly upbeat vein with a brighter take on RetroLowFi's "Fighting For Love." It's a track that still loses me a bit on the chorus, but remains a well-metered charmer in spite of it. And follow-up "Joe Henry" drops the volume and ups the ante with bright, beautiful chorus harmonies and minimalist, last-minute percussion.

"Ammonia," another song with which I'm familiar due to its inclusion on his RetroLowFi collection, is an otherwise lackluster They Might Be Giants-style vocal track saved by phenomenal instrumentation, which plays perfectly into another RetroLowFi track, "As the Bombs Fell." It comes through as an album highlight, even among the other pop treasures that similarly balance angst and honesty in equal measure.

"Roll The Tape" marks the album's midpoint with vocal swagger and lyrics centered on the folly of a sure-thing. "Medicine Head," however, slows it down and dwells on the uncertainty of the un-medicated life, a topic that should resonate with a lot of us. "Winter Colors" keeps that string of somberness flowing, though it occasionally plods and again resorts to some clichéd lyricism.

"If You Loved Me" remains on the lower end with regard to tempo and manages to sound uniquely intimate, though it's not exactly Marc's best vocal delivery of the album. Still, it plays perfectly into follow-up "The Audience Is Listening," another not-so-subtle journey into the mind of the artist that breaks the cardinal rule of pop by extending past the five minute mark. More so, it also challenges multiple musical conventions by evolving into an acerbic spoken-word piece at irregular intervals.

Pop! Pop! Pop! returns to form with album closer "Just Stop Trying." Its double-time chorus punctuated by old school staples like who-who-whos and the all-important vocal countermelody really help to end the album with a bang.

With only minor shortfalls, Marc with a C's latest offering channels the pop music of our past into a shiny new version for tomorrow. It starts strong, gets a little mopey slightly after the midpoint and then pulls out all the stops for an 11th hour turnaround. Like the best pop, it challenges lyrical conventions in a manner both subtle and charming (by mining the artist's own experiences and attitudes), while at the same time making you sway with a healthy hooks and never-abused percussion.
If you're a fan of pop, in any of its myriad of forms, then Pop! Pop! Pop! is for you. But unlike those pop anthems of yore, it's freely available at

Welcome to the future.

"Pop, pop, pop goes weekend radio."


antisoc said...

I recently had my musical tastes shift on me... it was more of a logical progression away from the homogeneous guitar rock of the 99ish era. I started listening to electronic music, which eventually led back into pop music. Long story short, I still think Brittany Spears' music is still the worst on the planet. Even the current second worst top 40 artist, IMO, Justin Bieber, still manages to have a DIY ethic in him. Plus, he can actually sing without the aid of Anteres pitch correction products.

Anyhow it's nice of Marc (with a C) to provide a free download. I will be sure to check it out. Thanks for the heads up. I probably wouldn't find any new music without your help, Z.

Z. said...

And I wouldn't have a podcast if not fr you, Marc, so I think we're square. ;)

But on the subject of Bieber, you do make a compelling point: the kid actually can sing. That does put him ahead of most of his radio contemporaries.

Marc With a C said...

Thank you for the nice review, kind sir.

Z. said...

My pleasure, man. :)