Still Here (Half An Arc/johnrooneymusic.com)
There’s a friend of mine who, after wanting some definition of guitar pop, power pop and jangly guitar – having grown tired of seeing them turn up in reviews and stories as if everyone knows what we mean - still wants to know what’s so special about it? After all it’s an old fashioned form long forgotten by the world isn’t it?
I could tell her it’s about the melodies, which can walk a line between teenage excitement at the world in prospect and a kind of premature sadness about the (more likely) world to come. Because whatever else guitar/power/jangly pop always, always retains a sense of youthful wonder about the world.
And the fact that these can all be present whether you, or the songwriter, are teens, have teens or can barely remember what teens look like.
Possibly I’d add how basslines often present a melody not just a rhythm, while the mix of acoustic and electric guitars work on attractiveness rather than force. And when they amp up it’s still at a setting of 7 rather than 9, 10 or 11.
Because the guitar is the servant of the song, not the star.
Maybe there’d be mentions of the way backing vocals can be sweet, pretty, massed or as lonely as the protagonist, while the lead voice doesn’t demand technique but rather commitment.
Or maybe I’d cut to the shorthand, figure some of these names mean something, and say it’s made by people who grew up listening to (or being in) the Beatles and the Searchers, Big Star and Marshall Crenshaw, the Raspberries and Hoodoo Gurus, the Byrds and the Lonely Hearts.
All of those elements are here in some form on the satisfying new album from a former Lonely Heart - who put out three albums more recently under the name Coronet Blue before shedding the band monikers - backed by a who’s who of pop since the 1980s.
With the proviso that there are no full-throttle songs here (the power in this power pop is suggested not deployed), let’s start with the slower tracks from Rooney and his principal co-writers Georgina Johnston and Tom Watson.
Fall Into The Ocean is a ballad without the dramatics: gentle and ruminative in the verses and soul/gospel in the choruses; Guilt Street works similarly with a strong sense of west coast rock. Without You has some tension: the guitars tauter, the voice plaintive, the sweetness only in drops of female backing; Don’t You Think positions itself somewhere around 1974: a restrained guitar solo, bass sticking its nose into the discussion and a melody that heads to adult territory.
On the mid-tempo, Whatever The Difference ends the album with something of a faint echo of Blondie’s Picture This, while Fairground Ride opens the record with what on the page sounds contradictory - wistful hopefulness – but on disc works as it pairs Rooney’s ache with the backing voices’ more buoyant ooh-la-lalas. High Up In The Sky has some choppiness around a lovely, liquid bass and, also off the back of an intermittently prominent bass, Night Letters is the pushy younger sibling of the album, with its snappier drums and a chorus that feels not quite fully formed but eager.
If Still Here feels more comfortable and pleasing than outright thrilling – I’m not going to be quickly turning my guitar pop-averse friend into a convert with this - it’s worth remembering that sometimes it’s just good to have day-to-day pleasures at your fingertips.