in Stylus today. The last time a review of mine ran in Stylus, I griped here that the rating they gave it was not the one I submitted with the review, because I hadn't been told yet about their new policy. Now, the editor reads the review and gives it a rating based on what the writer says about the album, and a rating that's consistent with their rating system. Which is fine with me, because I was never sure I really had a handle on how to rate things there, and I don't really like to rate things either. Especially since I end up getting really neurotic about whether I'm consistent with my ratings and I don't, say, rating something really high that ends up not even in my top 10 at the end of the year. Stylus hasn't put anything up on the site yet as a disclaimer that the reviewers aren't deciding the ratings anymore, but just bear that in mind from now on. And though I'm fine with that policy, if I disagree with the rating, I probably will mention it here from time to time (I probably would've given this one the same rating they did, as it happens).
Not having to give it a rating really did help me finish this review, though, it was a tough one for me. In the 7 years since the Posies last released an album, they made the transition from a band I liked to one of my favorite bands ever. And on first listen, Every Kind Of Light
was a pretty big disappointment. But it's quickly grown on me, and though I still think it's pretty flawed and inconsistent, I may end up thinking pretty highly of it.Note: In light of the end of Stylus in 2007, I decided to archive the text of all my reviews for the site on this blog for posterity, since I don't what the future holds for the Stylus domain, and have included both the letter grade ratting that accompanied the original review, and an adjusted rating that I would give the record now in retrospect.
Every Kind Of Light
Stylus rating: B-
Adjusted rating by reviewer: B
The Posies broke up in 1998, and have been backtracking and reneging on that promise ever since. They decided to call it a day after being dropped from Geffen, following a modest run as alt-rock also-rans that never managed to capitalize on being a Seattle band in the early 90’s, despite having signed a major label deal well before the grunge explosion. So they wrapped things up with a prolonged round of farewell tours, and one last album, Success, which was surprisingly cohesive for a thrown together collection of new recordings of rarities and unreleased old songs. But founders John Auer and Ken Stringfellow couldn’t keep away from each other, and in their seven-year breakup, never went even two years without performing together.
Since the Posies’ failed attempt at breaking up, Auer and Stringfellow have toured several times as an acoustic duo and as the full electric quartet, and released two live albums, a box set of rarities, and an EP of new material. With all this posthumous activity, it’s unsurprising that the Posies are now officially back together with their sixth album of new material. After being kicked back down to indie level post-Geffen, they’ve now resurfaced on Rykodisc, who have wrapped Every Kind Of Light in that cozy green-tinted jewel case usually associated with their prestigious reissues, almost as an acknowledgement that the Posies’ continued existence is itself a blast from the past.
On previous albums, Auer and Stringfellow split lead vocal and songwriting duties 50/50, alternating songs in album running orders and concert setlists. But on Every Kind Of Light, for the first time, the songwriting credits are shared by the whole band, including the new rhythm section, drummer Darius Minwalla and bassist Matt Harris. And Auer’s voice dominates the material, singing lead on 6 of the first 7 tracks. It’s a welcome shift of the spotlight, though, since Auer’s solo debut has been delayed time and time again and is now due in 2006, while Stringfellow has released 3 solo albums already. And Auer in turn delivers most of Every Kind Of Light’s standouts, including the single “Conversations.”
Ken Stringfellow’s songs on Every Kind Of Light reflect the keyboard-driven direction of his recent solo work more than his previous output with the Posies, who rarely strayed from guitar/bass/drums arrangements. On “Could He Treat You Better?” he attempts bluesy soul for the kind of ill-fitting genre pastiche that dominated last year’s solo effort Soft Commands. “That Don’t Fly” is a piano ballad much like a dozen others he’s written in the last few years, but also among the best of them, wherein Stringfellow, who recently moved to France, parallels his separation from America with the breakup of a relationship. The political undertones of the album aren’t always so subtle or elegant, though, and the cringe-inducing “Sweethearts Of Rodeo Drive” is full of hamfisted wordplay like “the black CNN has gone all HSN” and “paper or plastic body bags,” along with bizarre namechecks of Adrien Brody and Shaquille O’Neal.
Though the Posies’ last releases of original material, 1998’s Success and the 2001 EP Nice Cheekbones and a Ph.D., emphasized quiet acoustic material, Every Kind Of Light features some of the band’s heaviest fuzzbox action since the Don Fleming-produced thump of 1993’s Frosting On The Beater. Several songs, including “All In A Day’s Work” and the silly, upbeat “I Finally Found A Jungle I Like!!!” turn up the amps as loud as ever. But only “Second Time Around” combines those high volumes with the tremendous hooks of the band’s power pop roots, resulting in a track that ranks up there with “Solar Sister” as the Posies at their best. Truth be told, though, the band’s connections to power pop were always a little overstated, their songwriting too baroque and melancholy to really belong alongside all those bands aping The Raspberries. But “Love Comes” is perhaps the sunniest power pop tune The Posies have ever written, bouncy, bright and full of harmonies and jangly guitar leads.
Every Kind Of Light presents a wider variety of sounds and moods than any previous Posies album, thanks largely to a couple of lighthearted tunes, and a greater presence of keyboards than ever before. But most of these deviations from the classic Posies sound also account for the album’s weakest or most awkward moments. Still, consistency has never really been the Posies’ strong suit, and their latest has only a slightly spottier ratio of hits to misses than their best albums. And if that playful experimentation is what it takes to give the Posies a shot in the arm and make this more than a one-off reunion, so be it, because Every Kind Of Light provides ample evidence that there’s still plenty of mileage in the chemistry between the band’s songwriters.
Reviewed by: Al Shipley
Reviewed on: 2005-08-02
Labels: some shit I wrote, Stylus, The Posies