Jamie Hoover - vocals and guitar
Steve Stoeckel - vocals and bass
Rob Thorne - drums
Pat Walters - vocals and guitar
"Number 9" (Loaded Goat Records)
The Spongetones are known regionally for re-creating the live energy and style of the Beatles, but they aren't a tribute act. While their original material is rich with Lennon/McCartney-inspired harmonies and other Fab flourishes, the 'Tones draw on decades of British and American popular music.
With Added touches of trippy psychedelia and new wave, the Charlotte quartet, which celebrated its 25th year together last fall, makes sunny pop rock in the spirit of acts ranging from the Byrds to Elvis Costello.
Tracks from "Cruel And Unusual Punishment" could have found a home on MTV's '90s-era alt-rock show "120 Minutes," when fellow Beatle fans Matthew Sweet and Material Issue rules the channel's late-night playlist.
Some listeners may prefer one style over another (the retro numbers verses the more contemporary tracks), but there are no throwaways here. (POP Box 29056, Charlotte, NC 28229-9056)--Courtney Devores--The Charlotte Observer
Review by Pure Pop's Alan Haber
Loaded Goat (2005)
The last SpongeTones record, Odd Fellows, came out a little under four months before I took semi-retirement from my Pure Pop radio show and web site in 2000. The boys were kind enough to stop in to the radio studio on their way up to a concert they were playing that night with Richard X. Heyman; we recorded an hour's worth of live in the studio, acoustic versions of songs from the then-new album and favorite songs from the band's catalog, interspersed with a number of lively interview segments.
But that's not all. There's more! Drummer Rob Thorne played a special set of drums we jury-rigged for the occasion: a guitar case (closed), on which he lavished swaths of a pair of drummy brushes, and a cardboard box full of tape cassettes and cables he used as a kick drum. Jamie Hoover and Pat Walters played acoustic guitars and bassist Steve Stoeckel plucked his Hofner Beatle bass through a small amp. What a day that was; I'm still getting over it, five years later.
Not that any of that has anything whatsoever to do with the SpongeTones' new album, the wondrous, exhilaratingNumber 9. I reminisce simply to demonstrate how much I love these guys and the music they make; I've been affected by a lot of music in my life, but there are only a select few artists who have made music that has truly changed my life, and the records of this brilliant quartet from Carolina way are in that select group. Seeing the band play live at the first International Pop Overthrow festival was a transcendent experience for me; I've got a signed playlist that is one of my most cherished music-related possessions.
Every few years, when it's time for a new SpongeTones album, I get overtaken with anticipation; for me, it's like waiting for a new Beatles or solo Beatles album to hit the shops was back in the day. These guys are incredibly talented, and incredibly nice people, which makes all the difference, my friends; they are incapable of producing a record that is anything other than out-of-the-ballpark-and-into-the-surrounding-neighborhood fantastic. And so it is, again, with the baker's dozen songs that make up this 40 minute slice of pop heaven.
All of the qualities that jump out at you within the first minute or so of any SpongeTones album are here; they're stronger than they've ever been, and that's really saying something. It's sort of the equivalent of being the top of the poppermost; this incredible vocal band (no less than the Shoes said that of these guys, and they're right), group of keen instrumentalists, and writers with the gift are absolutely working at the peak of their powers, which is exactly as it should be for the world to continue turning on its axis.
The album kicks off in grand style with the Mersey-flavored thumper "Anyway Town" and the beautiful mid-tempo ballad "Alayna," both co-written by Stoeckel-Walters. Listen to the drums on these songs; hell, listen to the drums on the entire record. Thorne really makes this record come alive with some really inspired, propulsive playing that is recorded in in-your-face verite by producer Hoover. This is the way drums should be recorded. Attention, all other bands and producers within earshot: This is the drum template to follow for your next record.
Hoover's lively "Bring It All Over Me," made for head bobbing, is a very clever and infectious creation that includes some sly nods to a particular sound that needs no introduction; I dare you to not sing along with the song first time out, which frankly applies to every song on this record, including the expansive, elegant "Metal Motherworld," a co-write by Stoeckel and fifth SpongeTone Greg James. Dig the very cool, innovative vocal arrangement, and one of the most beautiful, harmony-rich choruses in recent memory.
Stoeckel and James hit paydirt again with the driving "Cruel and Unusual Punishment," the tale of Ivan Whitehead, who "sleeps in a bed that his mother made." It's a great mix of pure pop with a touch of the new wave. "Future Perfect," a gorgeous waltz graced with beautiful harmonies and pleasing chord changes, is another winner from the same team. Similarly, Hoover and Stoeckel's "Nights in Deja Vu" is blessed with some extremely winning harmonies and chord (and rhythm) changes.
I'm particularly drawn to "Homonym Girl, " a fantastic, once-again Mersey-flavored attraction spotlighting all of the assets of this great band. The music is a about as catchy as it gets, but those lyrics...way cool, folks. And don't forget to read along as the song plays. I won't spoil just why here, but take it from me that you'll have a ball. What a gas!
Special mention should be made of the striking package design, courtesy of Hoover's Van DeLeckie's brother Bryan Shumate. A splendid visual outfit for a splendid time in store for all. There's more, of course, much, much more to savor in these digital grooves, so crank up your CD player, alert the neighbors that you're going to shake the foundation, and turn it up. Number 9 is my front runner for album of the year, and I'll bet nothing else comes close to it.
March 31, 2005