“Lovejunky” 7” EP
Where have The Popguns been all of my life?!?! This feels like the most absurd oversight in my personal music history. I remember seeing their albums and singles in the bins at great record stores like the Ooze, 2nd Avenue, and the import section at Tower Records back in the early 90s. I’m sure I read about them in all the music magazines I read or used to read. Yet for some reason, I never knowingly heard them. That is until this fall. I guess that is one huge advantage of technology. Back then, there was little chance of actually hearing lesser publicized music that was sealed inside a vinyl jacket, or plastic CD case on the shelves of the better shops, so one had to stumble upon things by chance, or by taking the risk of purchasing unheard (I’m sure there are other options, but in my world, there was a lot of debate over which record I’d never heard I desired more – based solely on word of mouth). When the “Lovejunky” 7” appeared as a new release from the wonderful indie pop label Matinée Recordings a couple of months back, all I had to do was click a button on my computer screen to quash my curiosity. Let’s just say that the candy red colored vinyl was ordered right away.
The bright effervescent pop sound of The Popguns reminds me of why I loved Echobelly so much. “Lovejunky” is upbeat, exciting, jammed with chiming catchy guitars and Wendy Pickles’ yearning yet smiling vocals, which in my distorted mind feel like a perfect blend of Echobelly’s Sonya Madan and Swing Out Sister’s Corrine Drewery (keep in mind that I have not heard SOS’s continuing career since about 1987, but see my love of their single “Breakout” elsewhere). Echobelly may have climbed up and over the Popguns back to get the small level of notoriety they achieved a few years deeper into the 90s. Whatever the case, they are back and I am fully on board and asking for more, much like the protagonist of “Lovejunky.” The two non-LP B-sides here are so damn good that this 7” is a necessity. The absolutely rocking “Long Way to Fall” has a massive chorus that feels like it’s been part of my personal soundtrack of super hits for as long as I can remember. This song should be marketed as a single by itself! The final clincher is the acoustic “Home Late,” which has the magical jangling intricacy of The Sundays and a rainy day quality that always feels comforting.
Likewise, the full length, Pop Fiction, the band’s first in 18 years (where do I find the back catalogue?!) has been on constant repeat for weeks now. I never grow tired of it. From the opening ringing guitars of “City Lights” by Simon Pickles and Greg Dixon – underscored by Pat Walkington’s bass line – I get shivers up my spine with anticipation. Then comes Tony Bryant’s crashing mid-tempo drums and Wendy’s melancholic, mixed emotional vocal turn as she says farewell to a place, a life, a past (“never hear from me again”). The internal tension of the performance is enhanced by the ever increasing intensity of the guitars as the song progresses. From the get go, this album doesn’t feel like a band returning from a long time away, but a band hitting their stride during a particular fertile creative stretch. They’ve even included a sequel to the still brand new to me “Waiting for the Winter” single from the 1990 first album, Eugenie, with “Still Waiting for the Winter.” Where the original version is a propulsive kiss off to an uncaring lover, this new version is appropriately, a more reflective second part in the long ago wake of the break up. Wendy’s lyrical imagery is tangible as she sets the scene of a gathering bringing a group of old companions together and reminiscing about the girl who has vowed to never come back (“she’s never coming back again / yeah, I heard that she’s o.k. / still a world away”).
There is a lot of reflection going on throughout the album, but it all feels so fresh, because of the vibrant music and Wendy’s wonderful voice, along with tasteful backing vocals from Kate Mander. “Leaning on the Backline” brings up memories of a long lost friendship and the curiosity of the unexplored inside yet another perfect song structure and the fun sing a long chorus and closing refrain: “and did you find that love was not divine and kisses not like wine?” Likewise, “Something Going On” comes on with a striking and sharp repetitive guitar strum and more curiosity if there was or is some kind of unexplored connection between two long time acquaintances. The closing “I’ll See You Later,” on the other hand, has the feel of personal triumph as Wendy sings about the ignored girl from the past, becoming the sought after woman and the point is ever emphasized by her soaring vocals in the powerful chorus.
Every damn song is a keeper. The pure pop of the standing in the wings “If You Ever Change Your Mind,” and the gliding cool of “Alfa Romeo” are so addictive and brilliant ear candy. The only slow down of shiny hooks comes with the back to back slower songs in the middle section of the album. “Out of Sight” soars with tasteful feedback atmospherics atop a rumbling beat, as the lyrics explore the strength of a relationship. Is it one of convenience? While the acoustic “Not Your Night Tonight” is a very gentle turn down, as Wendy sings “cause there’s no ‘us’” to some unfortunate guy who had higher hopes.
This is already one of my favorite albums of the year and cannot recommend it with any more gusto. Welcome back Popguns! Glad you decided to return to introduce yourselves.