Shoes – Ignition (Black Vinyl) review
For any great power pop record, the drums are just as important as the chiming melodies. From the Raspberries, and Badfinger, to Matthew Sweet and the Posies, every great band of this genre were propelled by excellent drumming. For Shoes, they’d always fallen a little short in this category – until now, with their brand new album Ignition.
The first new Shoes record in 18 years is also their best.
Shoes arrived in 1977 with their first national release, Black Vinyl Shoes, containing melodic hooks and sweet harmonies – traits that would stay with the band their entire career. That album was recorded in the band’s living room, giving it a certain low-fi charm, but never realizing the full potential for many of the great songs. That album was the vehicle that got them signed to Elektra for three records in the late 70’s and early 80’s, and even garnered a decent amount of play on early MTV. Yet, although the albums of this period are decent, there’s still a spirit missing. Once their major label contract expired, the band took to making their own records independently. Many of their albums of the 80’s and 90’s are heavily infused with synthesizers, giving them an unfortunately dated sound. 1994’s Propeller upped the amps and drums, but lacked hooks in many songs. That’s what makes Ignition so great – all 15 songs are winners – guaranteed to get you humming along. But, it’s the drums of John Richardson, who’s been touring with them since 1994, that truly makes a difference. His playing is meaty – it’s his rhythms that drive much of the songs, giving these hooks the backing they need to take them to another level.
The Power Pop genre is usually done best by younger musicians. Take, for instance, the Raspberries’ and Big Star reunions of the last ten years – it was great to see those guys playing their classic tunes – but they were too old to really kick it like they used to. That’s what makes the Shoes reunion unbelievable – these guys sound like young pups on songs like the rocker “Heaven Help Me,” or the jangly “The Joke’s On You.” They still wear their influences on their sleeve, like the Pepper-esque “Maybe Now,” or the mid-Sixties pop of “Wrong Idea.” And, it’s not all one flavor, with plenty of surprises, like the gritty Stones’rocker “Hot Mess.”
While there might be a youthful energy to the music, many of the lyrics deal with mortality. On “Head vs. Heart,” Gary Klebe sings “Time is chasing me down,” while “Nobody to Blame” features the lyrics “life goes on anyway / it’s over and there’s nobody to blame.” And, they’ve saved one of the best for last – the album’s final track, “Only We Remain,” is pure power pop perfection, and is reminiscent of “Shake Some Action” from the Flamin’ Groovies.
Shoes have flown under the radar most of their career. Yet, Ignition proves that they can still deliver the goods. Recommended for power pop lovers, or anyone that misses great melodic choruses. One of my favorite albums of the year. –Tony Peters