by Casey Piotrowski
I hear it more and more; People - and not just those of my age - have become disenchanted with the state of popular music. The old names have lost it and the new names have never found it; that's the consensus, enter a dose of renewed faith because of Joe Molland, Badfinger's lead guitarist.
His new solo CD, This Way Up, is a shining example of rock's best days (the late '60s and early '70s) and shows the vitality of that breed of contemporary music today. It's just a great new record.
There is a comfort level one feels as soon as the CD starts - the jangly guitars, the familiar song structures, the luscious hooks and the harmonies in just the right places. But this is not to suggest that This Way Up is merely a redo of Molland's past glories, no more than it is when a great painter uses the same brush strokes on his next great work. Hardly. Molland has a lot to say and, to his credit, plays to his strengths as he says it. His music rocks one's soul and his lyrics rock the mind. (A libretto is included. Molland's words can stand alone as poetry.) He has become an outstanding lyricist, having learned to use both head and heart to deliver his message.
The songs uniformly are so strong melodically that listeners are singing along with most of them before they're finished. And Molland's guitar work only polishes his reputation as one of rock's most expressive, most melodic guitarists. The fills and solos are always tasteful, never overdone. There's not a scrap of fat in the arrangements of any of the album's 13 tracks.
In the best tradition of the genre, the music is stylistically all over the map. "Happy" is a smasheroo, a #1. It is emphatically, relentlessly commercial. (I have spent hours playing the track over and over.) This song about unfulfilled campaign promises is a contemporized Merseybeat joy, with a staccato tempo and amped-up guitar arpeggios mixed into a hook-filled melody and a driving beat. By itself, the track is worth the price of the CD. "When I Was A Boy" conveys the same mood as The Beatles' "Free As A Bird," only this time, the tune works.
The album closer, "Isn't That A Dream," is a majestic, elegant wonder that states that a better life is, in fact, not just a dream. Then there's the dreaminess of "Moonlight," the near-twang of "Tell Me," the Chuck Berry rave-up "Three Minute Warning," the delicious chord progressions of "This Must Be Love" and the rest, each a different delight. (Only one complaint: Please don't take so long before your next album.)
For those of us who've dearly loved this kind of melodic rock, from The Everly Brothers to The Beatles through Badfinger and the Raspberries, etc.., and who have mourned its passing, This Way Up has given the music a hit to the heart and started it beating again.