Worlds of Pop

No matter how intriguing it might look on paper, or in some manager or record label head’s fevered brain, the whole “supergroup” thing is usually a bust. I blame Asia, Gogmagog, and Bad English because let’s face it, Cream and Derek & the Dominos made fantastic music and weren’t around long enough to annoy anybody.

Today’s finest living/recording example of this alluring but often short–lived and unfruitful concept is The New Pornographers, who continue to defy the odds and produce power pop masterpieces every two or three years, the latest being Brill Bruisers. Most famous as the side project home of Neko Case and Dan Bejar (Destroyer), the NP’s, whose vision and material come mostly from songwriter/solo artist A.C. Newman, have here taken a beautifully sculpted and gleaming turn towards 80’s Brit synth–pop, specifically the sounds of ELO and Simple Minds. Those with a low tolerance for Jeff Lynne and his mannered sonic wonderland will want to stay completely clear of this one! Yet for those who tapped into Eldorado, Face The Music and A New World Record, this is yet another example of Lynne Creep, the pervasive and still growing (how?) influence of the man's clearly distinctive sound.

Of course there’s more going on here than just Lynne worship. Newman’s endless fascination with power pop confectionary grows ever more baroque with each new record. Here it’s achieved by recording and stacking up varied sections of voices, guitars and keyboards, adding reverb and computer–derived keyboard figures and showering all of it with glittering sonic baubles and endless ornamentation. Cuts like the wonderfully titled “Champions of Red Wine,” the uncannily Jeff Lynne–like “Fantasy Fools” and the Pet Shop Boys clone “War on the East Coast” are gorgeous, tuneful, many–tiered productions. Lest everything get too feathered and glittery, there are tracks like “Backstairs” and “Dancehall Domine” which have enough electric guitar heft to keep things from becoming too pop.

In interviews about Brill Bruisers, Newman has spoken half–seriously about being influenced by Sigue Sigue Sputnik, unfailingly paid serious tribute to the influence of 80’s ELO on the material and production, and talked earnestly about making the group’s most cohesive record ever. He’s also said iPad and iPhone apps were used during recording and that overall there was a “conscious effort for artificiality.” Bad as that sounds, there is a quavering, not unappealing otherworldliness about the sound of the entire LP. Besides the obvious nods to the mini–kingdoms Jeff Lynne used to create on the best ELO records, there is a carefully constructed, universe unto itself feel about these complex, gleaming tracks.

They were carefully assembled over a two year period in Newman’s Woodstock, NY studio but as he says in the official bio, there was still a “certain amount of travel still figured in, `chasing Neko around’ to Texas and Vermont, and heading back to Canada for much of the work involving the three songs written and sung by Bejar.” Built on a computer, and tinkered and tweaked over time, the sound here on LP, not surprisingly, is good not great. Less processing, greater dynamics and a more natural edge to the sound would have helped immensely, but Newman is a firm practitioner of putting–the–power–in–power–pop and the Brill Bruisers is a classic example of what he does, a process effectively evoked by these lines from "Champions of Red Wine."

“It’s what we’re known for

The fine art of crossed lines

Crossed for old times

Like starting over.”

Allen Fant's picture

Thanks! for sharing RB.

ken mac's picture

Love this one as I have most of NP's work. They get better and better and I wish more people noticed.
But if I never again hear that dead poof Jeff Lynne snare drum sound which has marred so many otherwise great LPs it will be too soon!

garysi13's picture

album from the Pornos, then again, a good NP record would be a great record for most other bands. They do deserve the supergroup description, mainly the fact they get together every so often keeps it fresh. Seeing them live shows off how tight and talented the sum of the parts is. I do believe they still have a masterpiece in them waiting to get out. PS...I am one of those who adores the Jeff Lynne sound.

dalethorn's picture

This article prompted me once again to go after the original "Do Ya" by the Move, and this time I found it, now labeled as an 'alternative' version. The original ('alternative') is what I heard in Cleveland in the 1970's, and somehow it got replaced by the version with the falsetto background voice on the chorus parts. So 40 years later I have what I actually heard on radio then, for a short while at least.