For a long time now, after giving up on commercial radio in the late ’80s, I have generally learned about new music mostly from friends, as well as hearing tunes played at record stores I frequent. One of the bands I missed back in the day is a group called Roxette, who are one of Sweden’s top exports, second only to ABBA. I was aware of them and knew they were popular, but never got hooked by what I heard. So imagine my surprise to be writing a review of an album by the founder and main driver behind Roxette, Per Gessle.
My good friend and musical collaborator John Ashfield (who is as into classic pop music as me) went to see Roxette live here in the San Franciso Bay Area a while back and was blown away at how rocked-out and tight they sounded. As he dug deeper into their catalog, it turns out that America was but a pimple on the journey Roxette has taken, making them an enormous concert draw around the world to this day (check out the Wiki for more info — you may be as surprised by their history and success as I was!).
And so goes it with band leader Per Gessle, who I’m fast realizing is a genius of pop songwriting and music marketing — he puts out Swedish language albums as well as English albums, and they’re all pretty groovy in different ways, reaching very different audiences.
John showed me some concert videos of this guy playing to audiences of the Bon Jovi and Springsteen scale, and he works the stage every bit as passionately as our dear Jersey Boys… plenty of sweat and audience participation. His voice sounds sort of like if Michael Penn sang with the conviction of Prince.
So, knowing I’m a vinyl junkie, John ordered me a copy of Per Gessle’s two-LP solo extravaganza called Son of a Plumber (SOAP) which was released on the Capitol Records label, I guess everywhere but here, around 2005. (Thanks again, John!)
Like discovering Guided By Voices for the first time years ago, this album plays like it was made in some alternate universe of ’60s and ’70s British and American rock and pop. It’s like listening to A.M. radio from a bygone era and and hearing cool pop and rock hits, and then there’d be that sugar sweet infectious confection by Helen Reddy or Mary Macgregor that would get stuck in the back of your head like a permanent earworm. (Check out “Hey Mr. DJ” and tell me its not like a circus mirror-image inversion of songs like “Torn Between Two Lovers.”) Even the cover has all the hallmarks of a vintage Capitol release, comically replacing the old “New Full Dimensional Stereo” tag with “Elevator Full Dimensional Stereo” (a nod to the fact that the album was released on his Elevator Records subsidiary of Capitol/EMI).
By the third song, the album is well into radio party territory; the plaintive pop-folk dream-date song “I Have A Party In My Head (I Hope It Never Ends)” is immediately followed by the kick-ass Saturday night call to action rocker “C’Mon” — a classic anthem that would segue beautifully between Elvis Costello’s “Radio Radio” and The Records’ version of the Bay City Rollers hit “Rock ‘n Roll Love Letter.”
Side B opens with “The Junior Suite,” which contains my my favorite track — the absolutely hysterically titled and brilliantly played “Are You An Old Hippie, Sir?” which nicks the riff from the old Vanity Faire bubblegum hit “Hitchin’ A Ride.” Then it segues into “Double Headed Elvis,” which sounds like Prince channeling Marc Bolan, yet — like Guided By Voices’ Robert Pollard — is not afraid to realize the song needs to end, so it goes like this:
“I’m sorry but that’s all there is
yeah yeah yeah”
This then slams into a sort of Cars-meets-Wings power-pop gem “Something In The System.” And the thing is, you can’t help but feel like you’ve heard these songs before, because they’re artfully crafted in loving homage to music that Gessle clearly has in his blood. “Speed Boat To Cuba” has great couplets like “…when you reach Havana, it’s time to call Johanna.” It’s Macca’s Band on the Run meets side two of the Beatles’ Abbey Road as played by The Archies on steroids.
There is even a song called “Ronnie Lane”
The album goes on with titles that Jeff Lynne would probably kill to have written (“I Never Quite Got Over The Fact That The Beatles Broke Up”). And there is much self depreciating humor (“Kurt — The Fastest Plumber In The West,” ”Brilliant Career,” etc.).
Son of a Plumber is beautifully recorded. If Gessle is true to his roots, it’s probably all analogue, but whether or not that’s true, the album exudes an incredible warmth and is a pleasure to listen to even cranked up loud. My only nit on the LP pressing is that it’s on thin vinyl, with some warpage evident (although thankfully it’s not off center). Ultimately, the LP plays fine and rocks grandly. I’ll be happy to file this album in my collection — right after Gerry and The Pacemakers. Not a bad place to be, eh?
If you like The Beatles, Badfinger and The Bay City Rollers, you probably want to check out this guy’s stuff. It’s pretty rad.
I mean… he pulls off this sound perfectly live. Check it out.