Zeenith (Light In The Attic)
It’s A New Day Tonight (Wick)
If you accept that all power pop/guitar pop music must at some point be traceable to its roots in the Beatles then along the way you will likely find yourself stopping at another one or two of the ‘B bands’ of the melodic pop/rock firmament, acolytes themselves of the Beatles, Big Star and Badfinger.
While one was from southern USA (Big Star, from Memphis) and the other southern Britain (Badfinger, from Swansea), their connection to the Beatles was direct, timely and, in the case of Badfinger, personal. They took big tunes and added 1970s guitars and sharp crunch - putting the power into pop if you will - and from them have arisen many, many more, be they The Posies and The Bangles, Boys and Mad Turks From Istanbul, or Teenage Fanclub.
By odd coincidence, in recent months two albums have arrived which not only confirm that family tree, but even augment it: one new (Michael Rault) and one dredged from an almost wholly lost past (Zuider Zee).
Zuider Zee’s Zeenith is not even the one album the band, which moved around the States but was in Memphis for its principal recording, released in its time. Instead it’s a collection of songs, mostly written by singer/guitarist Richard Orange, recorded before that 1975 self-titled debut. And it’s a packet of gems.
Derivative, sure, inconsistent, yes, and so in the thrall of Paul McCartney that when I sent a friend of mine a link to one of the songs here, he said “are you sure it’s not another secret McCartney side project?”. But enough of them are so enjoyable that it justifies that tag of gems.
Orange often throws to a McCartney high pitch, the guitars brightly punch up rather than forcefully punch out and arrangements favour clarity over fussiness. There are moments of piano semi-melancholy which build up to something lightly-religious (Miami), pretty and whimsical songs that feel like throwing the curtains back in the morning (Quite A While), silly love songs that charm despite – or because of - it all (Lancelot’s Theme), nods to music hall (Better Than All The Others) and big chord power drives that actually have a funky groove underneath (Haunter Of The Darkness).
As with Emmitt Rhodes, a contemporary of theirs who similarly missed fame by bad timing and bad luck, Zuider Zee (a name which you have to imagine played a role in their lack of success) throw out melodies that might have fuelled two or three careers for others, but had quirks to tweak things just enough.
Might Be I’m Losing My Mind is like a crash course in big-collared English pop, After The Shine’s Gone shifts between raspy rocking Wings and some kind of poppy Pink Floyd, and Ackbar Didedar threatens/promises to be stately, cod-harpsichord and all, but keeps its youthfulness at the front.
If Canadian Michael Rault hasn’t heard Zuider Zee yet, he will be in heaven when he does. With his big Big Star clean but prominent guitars in the opening track, I’ll Be There, the lolloping through the meadow rhythm of Oh, Clever Boy, and the dreaming-my-day-away melody and pillow-soft oohs and aahs (over acoustic guitar and swirling organ) in Dream Song, Rault wears his affections at least as prominently as his affectations.
There’s a little bit of rock swagger in Out Of The Light’s choruses, but its verses are folkier, and when he doubles or triples the guitars in Sleep With Me to add some slight psych edge, Rault pairs that with doubled or tripled voices to keep things in dappled light. And that’s before the showiness of the strings arrive. Likewise, the sweetness of Pyramid Scheme is accompanied by a fluid, almost soulful bass line that makes the LA-smooth guitar solo a kind of yacht rock cream to the pop rock cake.
If the album’s closer, When The Sun Shines, begins heavily in debt to The Posies (it could be a lost track from their Dear 23 album for those as hung up on The Posies as I am) and finishes as something researched heavily from The Beatles’ Abbey Road, it seems churlish to complain as it seems such an appropriate note on which to finish. Zuider Zee would appreciate it.