CD Review: Future Clouds and Radar – Peoria (Star Apple Kingdom)

This is the second album as Future Clouds and Radar from Robert Harrison, former leader of the great power pop band Cotton Mather, and though Harrison has not lost his ability to combine a pithy lyric with a memorable melody his newest release does not quite stack up with the first release his newest band, a tremendously ambitious double album that put the band on the map in a big way. Despite this, the new CD Peoria has plenty of good songs, just not the big winners and idiosyncratic charms of the first disc. That’s not to say Harrison has lost his touch for a great song, to the contrary, he writes incredible smart-pop songs. He has probably just released this album a little too soon, in my opinion. No doubt wanting to capitalize on the great notices and buzz of his new band, Harrison has put out this collection of songs when, if you think about it, Harrison could have taken some of the great songs on his last album and combined them with the stronger songs on this set and Future Clouds and Radar would have had two killer albums back to back.

But Harrison has always had his own methods, and as different as they are, they seem to work fine for him and consequently, for his listeners and fans. After releasing three wonderful power pop records with Cotton Mather, the last coming out in 2001, Harrison sort of fell off the face of the pop music world. That is, until the two disc opus Future Clouds and Radar released as their debut in 2006. Not only making up for lost time, Harrison seemed to take his songwriting to the next level, taking the form known as power pop and advancing it into a psychedelic style totally original yet totally familiar and accessible while retaining his skewed outlook and addictive melodies. It was a set of songs deserving of all the superlatives and praise heaped upon it and arguably one of the best albums of the year, if not the decade.

With less than a third of the songs of the band’s first release, Peoria seems almost like an EP, a much briefer snapshot of the slices of life Harrison created so cleverly on his previous CD and one that never seems to really get going, despite some out-and-out rockers like Eighteen Months and The Mortal. The production by Harrison and David Fridmann continues to impress, creating an expansive sonic canvass on which to overlay Harrison’s beautiful melodic inventions and expressive, impactful lyrics. Vocally, Harrison seems to be getting stronger, contributing his greatest vocal work yet on this disc. All the ingredients are in his possession to delver a completely devastating album. Thing is, he’s already done so. The fact he had to follow it up means there was bound to be a little letdown. The dreaded sophomore slump I guess, but one that stings a little extra because the bar was raised do high.

Standing on its’ own, this is not a bad little record, though surely not the epic declaration Harrison and crew regaled us with on their first release. While that may be a good thing to listeners who might prefer a shorter set of songs, I felt their first was near a masterpiece and find this record slightly lacking. With this release, Future Clouds and Radar are merely another band, with some great songs, some good ones and a few they should have left off. While not a bad purchase for your music dollar, it is certainly not the epic triumph of their first disc and I find myself wondering if the band’s next one will simply be a continuation of the current formula or if the band will once again find a way to blow my mind. While I am hoping for the latter, we shall have to wait and see. In the meantime, buy this and see for yourself. Maybe the shortened musical blast will be more palatable for you. In the end, Harrison has the talent to do what he wants. Mu ultimate hope is that he just keeps making more music. That will be good enough for me.