Wednesday, December 8, 2010

D.L. Byron: This Day and Age (1980)


Today, we think of the premier power pop band as Big Star. Why is it, then, that so many self-proclaimed aficionados of the genre claim no love whatever for Alex Chilton and company? Probably because in practice, at its peak, power pop reflected something altogether more macho than the eccentric self-doubt and torment Big Star personified. If anything, the meatiest power pop of the late '70s and early '80s, much of it commercially unsuccessful, shies away from ambiguity. The Cars had some level of weirdness, some shades of gray, but someone like the Knack or D.L. Byron exemplifies as clean cut and bright a sound as a Billy Joel record. Byron, in fact, uses some members of Billy Joel's backing band on this, his sole full-length album for Arista.

On the best, most tortured cut, Byron sings "I can see the whole world turning on me, and it's offering me no guarantee for tomorrow," but it's rare that he strays far from his throaty, vague proclamations backed by generically fashioned basic guitar pop. His voice is a grating blend of early Elvis Costello and Joe Jackson; the only time it comes off trustworthy is at its most irksomely misogynistic: "Backstage girl, I put you to the test / 'Cause you're not like all the rest who go upstairs and get undressed."

No one at the label could push this enough to sell more than a few copies, all of which undoubtedly went to cultists who still treasure the record today. But as with so much post-Badfinger power pop, its colorless, workmanlike nature becomes its own identity, recommended for those addicted to well-crafted hooks and not a whole lot else.

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