PopMatters Music and Comics Critic
When does mimicry end and innovation begin?
It is perhaps superfluous to comment that nothing is original in the 21st century pop music scene. Not when the main objective of most up-and-coming bands/acts is to imitate and reproduce whatever is successful. And no, I won’t bore you with examples.
For the Spongetones (viz. Steve Stoeckel < vocals and bass, Pat Walters < vocals and guitar, Jamie Hoover < vocals and guitar, Rob Thorne < drums), success meant being lauded for an uncanny ability to evoke the sound and style of their major musical influence (the Beatles circa 1964), not as a cynical act of self-promotion but a sincere labor of love.
This strength has been the band’s distinctive feature on all their albums since debuting in the early ’80s. However, with diminishing commercial returns, the Spongetones as a unit, went into hibernation and new album, Odd Fellows, represents a comeback of sorts after five long years.
The label in question, Gadfly Records, has an excellent track record in releasing music made, not by the hippest, trendiest cats on the block but by artists of consistent quality like Kimberley (Soft Boys, Katrina and the Waves) Rew, Robert Crenshaw and Western Electric (featuring ex-Long Ryder Sid Griffin).
Never out of place in such exalted company, Odd Fellows finds the Spongetones doing what they do best < crafting songs in the mid-sixties style and fashion without embarrassment and without artifice. Right out of the blocks, “You’ll Come Running Back” suggests the R&B-informed beat pop popularized by the likes of the Animals and there’s no stopping the ‘Tones from that point. The muscular “Boy Meets Girl”, charming “Dark Brown Eyes”, rollin’ “Eyedoan Geddit”, bouncin’ “Too Much Talk”, heartfelt “Home”, rustic “Nightsong”, wistful “A Love Song for Mrs. Parker” and lusty “Much Too Slow” suggest that the hiatus has not left the ‘Tones bereft of ideas and verve.
That said, the best moment on Odd Fellows is a sparkling version of Paul McCartney’s “On the Wings of a Nightingale”, a song McCartney penned for the Everly Brothers. The ‘Tones attack the tune with gumption, with crisp harmonies and slinky harmony guitars < if anyone out there has doubts about the relevance of classic music making, The Spongetones should lay them all to rest.