Steve Barton not only knows where his music is going, he knows where it comes from. As a founding member of 80s cult favorites Translator, Barton confounded and delighted critics and fans alike by consistently creating songs that not only embraced the excitement of classic pop, but also managed to shine a light on the future. Bands like REM were able to burst through the artistic doors that Translator helped to jimmy open.
Translator was signed to Howie Klein's 415 Records (along with contemporaries Pearl Harbor & The Explosions and Romeo Void), just as the label itself was being snapped up by Columbia Records. Their debut single produced by David Kahne, the now classic and ridiculously catchy "Everywhere That I'm Not", started a run of great singles and four remarkable albums. Though their music consistently garnered critic's top marks, it went largely undiscovered - and the band finally called it a day.
For Barton, the years that followed the breakup included intensive writing, both alone and with performers such as John Wesley Harding (their collaboration, "Summer Single", can be found on Harding's "Pett Levels" CD), playing guitar for hire, and joining with Translator in a one-off reunion. In 2000, he also released his striking solo debut CD The Boy Who Rode His Bike Around The World.
Now Barton has put together a thrilling, punchy band to record his brilliant new disc Charm Offensive. The band features Casey Dolan (ex-Three Day Wheely) on guitar, Robbie Rist (The Andersons) on drums and Derrick Anderson (The Andersons, Dave Davies) on the bass. Translator drummer Dave Scheff makes an appearance on two numbers. The album was produced by highly esteemed industry veteran Ed Stasium (Ramones, Talking Heads, Smithereens).
The skeleton that holds Charm Offensive together can be found in the truly great pop songs. "When You're Gone", "Yours To Lose", "Shy", "Hold A Shadow Down" and "Bertha Jane" continue the tradition of classic, hard edged power-pop songwriting that has become Steve Barton's trademark. Vibrant, uplifting slices of three minute exhilaration combine a heady mix of British Invasion 60s and late 70s new wave, yet are still smart enough to sound completely fresh, completely now.
Fleshing out the body of the disc are arrangements that create depth, from the venomous thrash of "Kiss This", to the intense balladry of "Monument". "Tina Finds The Silences" is an appropriately edgy, angular and aggressive salute to Talking Heads bassist Tina Weymouth. "Narcolepsy Baby" is a McCartney-esque character study - a passionate, evocative vignette. The album closer, "What Treasures I May Find" reveals a gentler, more introspective side to Barton's craft.
Probably the song that will garner the most interest initially is the sole cover version on the album. The Beatles' "She's Leaving Home" has been head-banged into a different shape altogether - assembled into one of the most outrageous re-interpretations of a Beatles song that has ever been digitally encoded.
Ultimately, what makes Charm Offensive a great listen is its depth and variety. The strength is in the songs. Each song stands on it's own, and each song gets even more satisfying with every spin.