There’s certainly no shortage of practitioners of power pop, but I’m always happy when one of my favorites resurfaces, as Paul Melançon has done after a lengthy spell punctuated by side projects, live shows, and an EP or two. Melançon’s 2002 opus Camera Obscura is still one of my favorite specimens of the power pop genre, and while he’s an excellent guitarist, his voice may be his most potent instrument, capable of straight up belting out a song in the best rock traditions as well as handling all the nuances of his homemade singer-songwriter fare. I couldn’t even point you to anyone I can honestly claim he sounds like – maybe a little hint of Robin Zander at the height of Cheap Trick’s popularity? – because he just sounds like himself, and I’m a big fan of that sound.
Armed with a three-piece backing band that perfectly complements his sound, and a clutch of new songs exploring some experiences he’s had confronting chronic anxiety in recent years, Melançon delivers a surprisingly sunny musical meditation on mental health that you’d expect to have been the result of 2020’s non-stop roller-coaster of mental-health-challenging events, but instead it arrived, pleasantly enough, right at the beginning of it, and it’s been one of my go-to albums for my self-quarantining playlist. Some of the songs are obvious with the subject matter – “Hyperventilate” conjures up images of a drowning man – while others make the listener work a little harder to get to the song’s center. Which is an absolute delight, since each song is coated in layers of ’70s-inspired pop-rock confection. There are hints of something new in Melançon’s musical vocabulary here too – I definitely picked up on a newfound love of a good freeform jam, which crops up such songs as the jaw-droppingly hummable “The New Decay”, among others. (And when Paul and the New Insecurities bust out a jam like this, they’re not kidding around either. It’s heady stuff.)
Highlights include the aforementioned “New Decay” and “Hyperventilate”, as well as “St. Cecilia”, a fantastic ballad with – yet again – that terrific ’70s vibe, and “Here And Now I Was” and “When Do We Get Smaller?”, the two songs most reminiscent of Camera Obscura. “Fitzcarraldo” is a mesmerizing mid-tempo rocker that challenges you to figure out which is the verse and which is the chorus, but when the whole song sounds great, does it matter? “Mareación” is an eleven-minute journey in the form of a self-contained, interconnected song cycle that also features that jamming element mentioned earlier. It may be the album’s most challenging listen, but it’s a mini-epic that earns the “power-pop-era” label on the front cover.
All of this is wrapped up in a package suggesting some lost, band-centric 1970s Saturday morning cartoon, an element that also carries over to the videos produced for some of the songs here. In short, this album has just about everything that power pop fans love – new music wrapped up in a dash of nostalgia, and it’s really good new music to boot. Highest recommendations.
- Theme from The Get Gos Action Hour! (0:40)
- Permanent Makeup (2:34)
- Robot World (3:14)
- This Shaky Lullaby (2:40)
- Hyperventilate (3:56)
- The New Decay (5:00)
- St. Cecilia (4:36)
- When Do We Get Smaller? (3:54)
- Fitzcarraldo (3:45)
- Mareación (11:09)
- Here And Now I Was (4:29)
- The Answer Is Yes (3:40)
Released by: Paul Melançon and the New Insecurities
Release date: April 10, 2020
Total running time: 49:37