Alan Haber_April 12, 2008
another spongetones classic, with extra-added cleverness on top
The SpongeTones | Too Clever by Half (Loaded Goat, 2008) Proving once again that they are the collective gold standard for vocal pop groups, the SpongeTones return just one year on from their momentous best-of with a tremendously satisfying platter of digital wax that, like their stupendous Number 9 album from 2005, will be hard to beat when it comes time to tally up the list of best pop albums of 2008.
Heck, it’s hard to beat right in the here and now, my friends, this collection of 18 perfect pop songs crafted with creative care by four music men whose keen melodic instincts are virtually unparalleled in the here, the now, and the wherever you care to imagine.
Too Clever by Half is the latest chapter of a 30-year partnership between four finely-tuned musical wizards, and it’s just the sweetest gift a pop fan could hope for in this or any other year. Really, I could stop there, right then and there, because what could I say that I haven’t already said about the SpongeTones? Well, these fingers can always conjure up something to say when it comes to music this googly-good, so here I go tapping away…
A finer leadoff track than Steve Stoeckel’s glorious “Invisible Girl” you wont’ find. A modern-day Merseybeat rocker with a sumptuous melody and rich, close harmonies that seem so effortless they float above the music, this song contains one of those shivers up the spine moments that are simply unforgettable: listen to the incredible harmonies at 1:58 and see if you don’t agree.
Stoeckel, who had a hand in the writing of no less than 11 of these tracks (three of them with Jamie Hoover), scores with the short-and-sweet, straight-ahead pop song, “One More Day,” a beautiful showcase for the SpongeTones’ harmonies prowess and Jamie Hoover’s signature guitar style; the gorgeous “Erica,” a pretty ballad with more of those incredible harmonies; and the rockabillying, tongue-in-cheek “Elvis Doctor,” featuring some ultra-impressive, up-and-down-the-fretboard-at-the-speed-of-light guitar work and some white-hot drumming by the great percussionist extraordinaire, Rob Thorne.
Hoover, wearing, as usual, the ceremonial SpongeTones All-Star Four-Cornered Hat (for producing, engineering, mixing and editing beyond the call of duty), teams up with the great Bill Lloyd for a trio of instant classics, one of which is a terrific showcase for a particularly ace, emotive lead vocal from Pat Walters. A how-to-survive-in-a-life-of-music song, “Your Entourage” zeroes in on some sage advice for a musician who has lost his way. The song is chock full of great lyrics, like “I’ve watched you change from my old friend to someone I didn’t know/Why do you need that flock of geese to follow you where you go?” It’s a great, great number, expertly performed.
Amongst Hoover’s other hit bound tunes on this platter, the title track, co-written with Steve Stoeckel, is a bright, left-turn surprise. It’s an ultra-catchy love story sung by Hoover and Stoeckel against a lively orchestral backing, a welcome first for the group. Dig, especially, the very cool “Penny Lane” piccolo trumpet solo by band pal Doug Burns. “Three Kisses for You,” a lovely love song sung with conviction by Hoover, scores with an instantly lovable melody that will put a smile on your face and, hopefully, a kiss on the body part of your choice.
But, as good as the title track and “Three Kisses for You” are, Hoover’s “Must Be Lust,” a wild and wooly amped-up, herky-jerky kind of springtime lust song that kicks off with a pretty face and gets jiggy with it with more creativity than can be expected to ooze out of an entire album, is the bomb. Ask Jamie where he got the idea for this one, and I’ll bet he’ll just smile back at you, a big honking twinkle in his eye.
And so it goes. Too Clever by Half is another shining example of How. It. Should. Be. Done. And done well, I might add. Three kisses, uh, I mean three cheers for the mighty SpongeTones!