Review: Push Stars should 'open' big
The Push Stars
By Greg Rolnick
(CNN) -- The Push Stars may be the best band you're not listening to yet.
The Boston, Massachusetts, group's fourth album, "Opening Time," continues showcasing award-winning songwriter Chris Trapper's outstanding ability to marry clever and touching lyrics with instantly enchanting melodies.
Put another way: The Push Stars create the kind of pop songs you aren't ashamed to let your friends hear playing on the stereo.
After finding success in the Boston music scene and unwittingly winning the title of "EMI's Best Unsigned Band in America" in 1997 (a fan entered the band on the sly), The Push Stars finally signed to a major-label record deal.
Capitol Records released the group's third album, "After the Party," in 1999. Things seemed to be heading in the right direction: major-label support and a successful tour that earned them new fans, plus the added bonus of providing music for the Farrelly brothers, who have used The Push Stars' music in most of their films since "There's Something About Mary" (1998).
However, when The Push Stars' A&R man left Capitol and the label's support appeared to dry up, the group decided to get out of its contract and create "Opening Time" on its own. It was a wise decision.
Depth and punch
Trapper's hollow-bodied guitar and syncopated rhythms routinely pervade The Push Stars' sound, and "Opening Time" is no exception. This time, though, the band took a few more risks in the studio. Dan Mcloughlin's bass lines have more depth, and Ryan Macmillan's drumming has added punch. And instead of gliding along the surface of the song, Trapper's words are wrapped in a tightly knit sonic blanket of melodic and lyrical care.
The one-two combination of "Millionaire" and "All I Wanted," the album's second and third cuts, trace the need for financial and emotional fulfillment. "You see what you want/But you take what you get," Trapper sings. "Millionaire" presents a new musical texture for the band. Layered guitars, bass, drums, violins, keyboards, and operatic vocals bring a fullness to its customary jangly groove. Added to that is a push-and-pull rhythm that slides the groove back a beat before every crescendo.
"All I Wanted" and "Waiting, Watching, Wishing" are two more solid examples of the band's apparent comfort in the studio. Each is built upon a basic three-piece framework, and then given more oomph and bottom.
Track No. 4, "Who We Are," has a lounge feel, as the guitar line faintly echoes the melody of "The Girl From Ipanema." The song explores a common theme in The Push Stars' repertoire: the search for your own sense of self in the midst conformity.
But perhaps the most entertaining track offers a lesson - and a great groove. The story of "Frathouse Joe" is a rollicking account -- complete with a 1960s Hammond B-3 organ riff that sails along like a lost track from "Louie Louie" -- of a frat boy who decides to beat up his girlfriend after he thinks she has made fun of him in front of his friends. Poor Joe quickly learns not to "underestimate the power of the female" when he gets kicked off the football team and ends up in jail with -- how do we put it? -- a "friendly" roommate.
The album occasionally stumbles on the softer, slower tracks. Songs like "Last Night's Dream" and "Miracle" tend to meander a bit much. Sometimes it appears as if Trapper wrote his best ballad years ago ("Wild Irish Rose" on the band's debut, "Meet Me at the Fair"). But it is safe to imagine that there are many more songs awaiting his creative touch that will correct that.
In the meantime, "Opening Time" only cements the fact that this is a band to be reckoned with -- a band whose time is coming soon.
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