Shazam – Meteor
Not only does this new album from rockers The Shazam mark the long-awaited return of one of the best power pop groups of the past twenty years or so but it also marks the return of THE best power pop label ever, Not Lame, if only temporarily. Two great treats in one! Seems the great folks behind Not Lame have decided to partner with The Shazam on this new CD but have no plans to revive the label outside of this release. Boo! Then again, if there was ever a reason to bother to start (or revive, as in Not Lame’s case) a label it is for a band as deserving and overlooked as The Shazam. For over a decade now, this powerpop juggernaut led by guitarist/songwriter/singer Hans Rotenberry have been at the forefront of the New Power Pop which sprung up in the mid-’90’s thanks to pioneering bands such as Jellyfish, The Posies and The Smithereens – bands who took the combination of melody and guitar bombast The Beatles, Badfinger, Big Star, and early Who represented and decided to bring it forward while giving it a much-needed kick in the ass with some modern technology and post-punk attitude. That the band hasn’t become more of a household name is very unfortunate as their distinctive blend of arena rock with razor-sharp pop hooks should have been the perfect bridge betwen the kind of FM hard rock fodder listeners have suffered through for over thirty years and the alternative rock of the mid-90’s and beyond. In fact, if Fountains of Wayne, Weezer and Foo Fighters were combined, it would sound like The Shazam.
Based in Tennesee, Rotenberry and band have eschewed all evidence of their Southern country roots, concentrating on the rock and pop Rotenberry and his bandmates (drummer Scott Ballew and bassist Mick Wilson) favored during their youth. Formed in 1994, the band’s first release was a cassette demo called Shake 500 comprised of the first ten songs the band had finished in the studio with producer Brad Jones. The band’s first CD was released in 1997 and included many of these same songs, only re-recorded and showing much better production values, with Brad Jones still at the helm. While the band’s second CD Godspeed the Shazam is generally regarded as their best, their subsequent longplayer Tomorrow the World and their newest Meteor, both top it, in my opinion, with Meteor showing all the pieces finally in place and a knowledgeable producer at the helm to help them get to the next level.
Meteor sounds just like it’s title suggests: a mighty planet-shaking whooosh of pure molten rock and roll with a generous helping of melodic goodness at its’ core. Helping craft the mighty ’70’s “big rock sound” on this album is the legendary producer Mack (Reinhold Mack to be precise) who has helped twiddle the knobs on albums for ELO, Queen, Billy Squier, and Sparks among many others. While Rotenberry and band have always managed to take it to the next level rock-wise while retaining a strong melodic thrust, bringing in Mack to help harness this Meteor not only brings Rotenberry’s vision to fruition, but also gives the band a certain new air of legitimacy. Mack manages to polish The Shazam‘s ample popcraft into a sheen that belongs on radio, had rock radio not totally abandoned anything of melodic substance long ago for the safety of mind-numbing repetition of the top five songs from the top twenty dinosaur bands making up their playlist. Am I the only one sure the Shazam‘s guitar firepower, with it’s bedrock of pop smarts, would have made a great complement to bands like The Kinks, The Who, and the harder-edged Beatles tracks? Which song is the best? Why, the last one you just listened to, my friends. This is an album for air guitarists and crunch-pop lovers everywhere!!
Needless to say, this album is not going to be leaving my player for a long, long time. Priceless power pop like this is hard to find these days and I am going to relish devouring this new release like a starving man at a free buffet. It’s no secret among power pop aficionados the “revival” of the genre did not go as well as planned, sort of like the alt.country movement which was equally hyped and fawned upon but relatively ignored by the masses. Still, a lot of great bands were inspired by Jellyfish, Posies et al. and there is a small movement that exists to this day among artists who seem to chafe at the words Power Pop but nevertheless seem to worship at it’s altar. By all rights, Shazam should be known as one of the best hard rock bands in recent memory and have thousands of screaming fans at every venue they play. Perhaps they still shall. But, in any case, if you’re looking for that record to sing along to, to play air guitar with, to play whilst driving over to the local bar, this is the album you should be playing and hopefully you’re playing it LOUD!