Van Duren – Are You Serious? (Omnivore Recordings)
A power pop masterpiece gets its long-overdue respect
A lot of us were introduced to Van Duren’s music through the excellent documentary soundtrack Waiting: The Van Duren Story, which came out in 2019 (read our review here). Now, Omnivore Recordings has reissued his first two solo records, Are You Serious? and Idiot Optimism – and there’s a lot of great music to discover here.
The debut opens with “Chemical Fire,” which features a crazy effect on the vocals, and a frenetic guitar solo. There’s also excellent interplay between the guitars. “The Love Inside” is fueled by strummed acoustic guitars and contains a catchy, Beatle-esque chorus. On “Oh Babe,” Duren sounds like Emit Rhodes through his gentle vocal delivery and melodic chord changes.
His inner Eric Carmen emerges on the piano-led “Waiting,” which features a clever use of pounding drums, and a somewhat dated keyboard solo. “New Year’s Eve” is a killer rocker, with a gritty Duren vocal.
The standout is “Grow Yourself Up” – kind of a hybrid of Todd Rundgen melodicism and Steely Dan sophistication, it was the song that inspired the Australian filmmakers to contact Duren for a documentary. The ethereal “Guaranteed” echoes Chris Bell of Big Star, whom Duren played with after that band’s breakup, while Rundgren definitely seems the influence on “Stupid Enough.”
One great aspect of this record is that it’s got a great mix of elements, from the gentle “Good To Me (For the Time Being),” with its descending guitar line, to the Caribbean-flavored, slightly-off kilter “For a While.” The album closes with the only song not completely written by Duren, “The Love That I Love,” co-penned by Big Star alumn Jody Stephens.
Even more impressive is the fact that Duren played virtually every instrument sans drums, yet it still sounds like a band effort – nothing stuffy or overproduced.
Are You Serious? is a fantastic debut album – arguably a stronger effort than those by similar artists like the Raspberries or Artful Dodger. The one thing Van Duren didn’t have that those two groups did was a major record deal. Now that this is finally being made available from Omnivore, we can truly appreciate this killer power pop album. –Tony Peters