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Listen.com Review: “The Key”

“Straight-ahead pop-rock with jangly, slightly distorted guitars and splashy vocal harmonies.  Shupp’s well-crafted songs bring to mind what Tom Petty might have sounded like coming of age in the VH-1 era, minus the nasal voice.”

— Will York
Listen.com
October, 2000

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Metro Connection, WAMU 88.5 FM

Metro Connection, WAMU 88.5 FM
Metro Connection
WAMU 88.5 FM

Mike Shupp was a member of Big Bang Theory, a local band whose new wave dance rock won them a major-label contract in the ’80’s.  Now he’s released his first solo album and it has a classic sound.  Songs like “Letter to Annette” are rooted in the pop rock tradition that suggests the Beatles, but actually begins with the early ’70’s group, Big Star.  [ music excerpt: Letter to Annette ]

The key word in that verse is “forget  As on so many power pop albums, notably those by fellow Washingtonian Tommy Keene, these simple songs are deepened by a sense of loss and regret.  Shupp’s album is called October Sun, a title that suggests the sadness of dwindling days and approaching winter.  In songs like “Right For You”, the warmth that’s receding is, of course, love.  [ music excerpt: Right For You ]

October Sun is not exactly a concept album, but most of these songs do share a mood.  They express the various reactions to the end of a romance, from denial, to acceptance, to defiance.  In one song, he insists that it’s “easier now”, but in the next, he’s demanded to know why someone is always trying to “prove me wrong  [ music excerpt: Prove Me Wrong ]

The arrangements on October Sun are constructed from the classic power pop elements of melody, harmony, and jangly guitar.  Still, Shupp hasn’t entirely forsaken the groove of his previous band.  One of the album’s most striking songs, “Pictures”, combines an earthy beat with a heavenly chorus.  Shupp’s lyrics sometimes seem a little too wistful, but songs like this show that there’s still plenty of life in the bass line.  [ music excerpt: Pictures ]

– by Mark Jenkins