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Monday, January 14, 2008

Return Trip: The Posies - Frosting on the Beater


The Posies
Frosting on the Beater
(DGC ; 1993)


I love an album with a good "how I first heard it" story. Mine is not exceptional, per se, but it's nice. Fellow WQFS DJ Mad Dog (he of the Friday Night Rock Party) was one of the first community DJ friends I made when I first started out as a freshman DJ in '99. He and I (along with a few other community DJs who have come on since) have held down the various ends of the power-pop spectrum on the air since then, but I still remember the night he handed me a copy of Frosting on the Beater.

"You've never heard it? Oh, well, here, take this one. I have about three copies."

Hit 'em hard and hit 'em fast is the credo of any good power-pop band, and Frosting on the Beater opens with a run of three songs that I would put on par with any opening set from just about any pop rock record. "Dream All Day," "Solar Sister" and "Flavor of the Month" are immediate. With the kind of fuzzy, overcharged guitars that were becoming standard by the early 90s, these songs are full of the vim and vinegar of their juxtaposed romantic hopelessness and the giddy rush of the music. Twin songwriters Jonathan Auer and Ken Stringfellow match their voices in one harmony-rich song after another, and by the time "Flavor of the Month" comes to a close, you are already lost in the sugary wake.

The album's first five songs all clock in at four minutes or less (and four of the five at 3:20 or less) plowing through the opening triptych into the melancholic and gorgeous "Love Letter Boxes" and "Definite Door." When track six lands, it's for one of the album's pure noise highlights, "Burn & Shine," a nearly seven minute composition. It's one of the album's darkest moments and the harmonies here are used to underscore the song's melancholy. The guitar work by Auer and Stringfellow is spectacular throughout, its acid-laced explosions raking through the distortion to turn the song into an almost nightmarish plummet into aural despair. As the song that signifies the end of the first half of the album, it's thrilling and unforgettable, a monolithic placemarker to an album that seemed to start off as nothing more than a great pop record.

"Earlier Than Expected" kicks off the second half with its sweet (and by comparison subdued) chiming guitars, a welcome respite from the pummeling of "Burn & Shine." But it's a tricky way to open the second half of the album which consistently features minor-key, fuzzed-out ballads. The almost petulant frustration in the vocals of "When Mute Tongues Can Speak" - the quiet-loud-quiet cascade of "Lights Out" - and the second side's "Burn & Shine," the moody "How She Lied By Living" - all cast a dark shade on the back end of what seems on the surface as a sunnier outing. Immediately you have to think of the frustrated, gorgeous schizophrenia of Big Star's Third/Sister Lovers. While Frosting on the Beater isn't the equal of that record's mental-collapse-on-vinyl, it holds the same sort of lurid, two-faced image - that of a brilliant pop record and of a dark, brooding masterpiece just underneath.

The album's closing song, "Coming Right Along," is the anti-climax to this spiraling decline. It's a continuation of the slowly decomposing feel of the record's latter half. From the album's opening, almost feverishly giddy songs to the middle section's explosion, to "How She Lied By Living"'s destructive finale. "Coming Right Along" is the closing credits, the post-script to a heady trip of emotions.

Pop albums, for the most part, don't carry this kind of thought into the arrangement of songs. To have set the songs on this record up to run in this order, even without a defined theme running through them, is the genius planning of people with grander ambitions than a simple collection of pop songs. This is truly what music fans mean when they talk about great albums.

Rating: A(udiophilic)

(Rating scale: A, E, I, O, U and sometimes Y)

Judge For Yourself:

The Posies - "Solar Sister"

The Posies - "Burn & Shine"

The Posies - "When Mute Tongues Can Speak"

Download Frosting on the Beater from Amazon.

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