Poor power pop. In a contemporary musical milieu dominated by rap, electronica, country, and alt-rock, it’s become an all-but-forgotten genre, an ironic turn of events when one considers that the style’s prime attributes — melody, drive, harmonies, hooks — can be traced directly to the Beatles, arguably the most influential band of all time.
Today, many of yesteryear’s power-pop heroes (Raspberries, Cheap Trick) are either defunct or artistically diminished, while the new brigade exists largely on the industry’s margins. Still, it would be premature to pronounce the genre dead. Rhino Records has just released a three-volume series, Poptopia! Power Pop Classics of the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s, including nuggets from Marshall Crenshaw (”Whenever You’re on My Mind”), Big Star (”September Gurls”), and Nick Lowe (”Cruel to Be Kind”). ”Our goal is to bring an awareness of this music to a broader audience,” says Poptopia! coproducer Dave Kapp. ”We love this stuff so much, we want to teach people its history.”
The Rhino series takes its name from L.A.’s annual Poptopia! festival, which marked its second anniversary in February with more than 100 bands performing over 10 days. According to festival organizer Tony Perkins, L.A. is home to the nation’s largest power-pop community, with more than 50 such local bands. Bruce Brodeen, who runs indie label Not Lame, likens the L.A. ”scene” to that of San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury in the mid-’60s.
”It’s all very incestuous and the bands are totally supportive of each other,” says Brodeen. He believes the current success of melodic, song-oriented performers such as Duncan Sheik and Matthew Sweet bodes well for the future of the music.
Power pop’s last commercial renaissance was in the late ’70s and early ’80s, when bands like the Knack and the Romantics rode new wave’s coattails onto the charts before being supplanted by synth pop. Perkins thinks a resurgence is, if not inevitable, possible: ”I can see it happening in the same way metal came up from the underground in the ’80s. Just wait until the power-pop version of Metallica emerges!”