Reviews: 6.25.19: Astral Drive’s Plea for Love, Butch Young’s Stories of People in Crisis, and Farrington’s Retro-Fueled Pretty Pictures

By Alan Haber – Pure Pop Radio

Astral Drive | “Wishing I Could Change the World”
(Lojinx, 2019)

Phil Thornalley, Britain’s champion of 1970s-era Todd Rundgren, returns as his Astral Drive nom de plume with a joyful Dave Bascombe (Tears for Fears) radio remix of “Wishing I Could Change the World,” originally waxed for 2018’s self-titled Astral Drive album. Also on board: two new tracks.

A plea for love becoming the constant that makes everything alright (“I keep wishing that the world would change / Love come pouring down like gentle rain / I’m still praying / Dreaming like every boy and girl / Wishing we could change the world”), the song’s jubilant, hopeful arrangement, and yearning vocal signify the coming of a melodic pop standard that really can change the world.

Accompanying the Bascombe-ized “Wishing I Could Change the World” are two new tracks, easily slottable into your growing Astral Drive collector’s bucket. A passionate, slowed-down take on the classic “Up On the Roof,” complete with Thornalley’s Rundgren-ized, understated vocal harmony stacks, draws new levels of emotion from the lyric (“Right smack dab in the middle of town / I’ve found a paradise that’s trouble proof”). The roof, in the case of Goffin and King’s classic song, is the perennial happy place, where hope triumphs over the alternative.

“Who Loves You,” essentially a new song (an unfinished number that didn’t make the Astral Drive album), “…is about how life can change in a heartbeat and how insecurity can haunt us just as easily as love can lift us,” according to Thornalley, quoted on the Lojinx website. Another Rundgren-esque number and as good as anything on the Astral Drive album, “Who Loves You” is a question perhaps best asked…up on the roof, where the answer should become clear.

Another melodic triumph for Astral Drive, this new single shines a light on the world at large, praying for love to conquer all.

Where to Get It: Lojinx, Amazon, iTunes

Butch Young | “Captain Serious” b/w “Beautiful Dreamer”
(Big Stir, 2019)

For all the sour, sad sack boys and girls out there, Butch Young’s eminently catchy, sweet-with-the-sour, Brian Wilson-with-a-touch-of-George Harrison ditty “Captain Serious,” about a guy to whom a smile is just a frown turned upside down, is your song. For everyone else, this song is a melodic pop confection par excellence from a Pure Pop Radio favorite.

I quote lyrics fairly often in my reviews, because I believe the words married to music are just as important in the long run, if not more so. Young’s depiction of this much-too-serious captain of his industry includes some rather clever wordsmithing. To wit: “Captain Serious / Is looking sour as a lime or a grape / His face is dour as some days-old lemonade / Left to spoil in the rain”. And this: “Oh, did your mom make you so? / She never really let you play your rock ‘n’ roll / Oh, did your Dad come home / And catch you reading Tolstoy all alone?”

The flip of this sterling Big Stir digital single, “Beautiful Dreamer,” a wonderful, dramatically orchestrated, catchy ELO-ish ballad, charts the course of a person who hides within sleep to avoid doom and gloom (“Bad feelings bottled up and then / An imminent calamity / Run baby, run”). Will these bad feelings pass, beautiful dreamer? “Have another wink or two / Before you spring to life / When will you open up / Your heart to see / The spell you’re under?”

Young’s 2016 album, Mercury Man, was a big hit for me, and was one of the bright stars of my Favorite Records of the Year: Stars of 2016 feature. I wrote: “Butch Young’s miraculous, hall-of-fame-worthy album is a modern classic by way of its dazzling array of 1970s-styled instant classic songs, peppered with a mix of Paul McCartney and Harry Nilsson-esque magic. Every one of these Los Angeles-based artist’s songs is a clear winner, like the title track, ‘Persephone,’ ‘One Foot In,’ and ‘The Fools of May.'”

I also said Mercury Man was awesome. And so are these incredible, miraculous songs that make up the 31st Big Stir digital single offering (both are earmarked for an album release next year). Don’t miss this one.

Where to Listen and Get ’em: Big Stir Digital Singles (scroll to the second entry)

Farrington | Pictures of Pretty Things (2019)

This monumental, audacious bundle of retro-fueled imagination, wackadoo musical composition and performance closes with a majestic, classically-influenced instrumental in which impassioned orchestration and lyrical guitar work play as the audience exits the auditorium–you being the audience and your music listening room being the auditorium.

But don’t exit the auditorium just yet: hang in there for the last 12 seconds of this album’s title track, the very last track, when a burst of packed-tight harmony voices shouting “Pretty things!” bounces off the walls like a Spalding® High-Bounce Handball. It’s a reminder of what you’ve just heard: a never-mind-the-boundaries kind of album in which glam meets pop meets rock meets all sorts of other stuff, too.

Farrington’s Pictures of Pretty Things packs a box set’s worth of ideas and musical manipulations into just about 35 minutes of–what’s the word I used up top? Audacious? Well, audacious it all is, without a doubt.

Farrington, aka mad musical scientist James Patrick, works his magic in a Queen frame of mind, singing like a glam superstar with a pure pop heart. And save for a few harder-edged rockers, the artist stays put squarely in a melodic pop sandbox which, for my tastes, is an eminently satisfying domicile.

Piano and other keyboards, played with passion, save for one song, by Farrington, majorly drive these songs, although the drums, played by co-producer Marcos de la Cruz, also pack quite a desirable punch. Anthony King, playing a good chunk of the guitar and bass parts, and other fine folks, including Kai Danzberg and Fernando Perdomo, help to make this astounding mix of great songs and performances a towering achievement. These songs are all about the sound and how the hooks aplenty grab hold of you and don’t let go.

Achieving towering status are any number of top-drawer tunes, including the ultra-poppy “The Love Show,” a mid-tempo Queen-tinged song which is ultimately about love, love, love; the power-poppy “Long Way to Nowhere,” ultimately about the power of music (“Blondie dancing in a heart of glass / She makes me dizzy”); and “When I Was You,” an uptempo beat-driven pop song about ultra-disappointment in a doomed relationship (“I wish you were dead, she said / Yeah, I guess the feeling is more than mutual / So take me back to yesterday / When I was you”).

These songs are all about the sound; frankly, I’m not entirely sure what most of these songs are about, but they sure sound good as good can be. “Blue,” a mid-tempo pop-rocker bops ahead with a decidedly Sweet “Love is Like Oxygen” vibe that is intensely infectious. And “Violins,” another poppy pick-to-click, tells the tale of a girl in a shaky relationship who finds solace in the sound of violins (“She listens to violins / And her imagination runs wild again / She listens to violins / The music makes her smile again”).

A box set’s worth of magical ideas imaginatively whipped into shape by a mad musical scientist who knows how to mix just the right ingredients, Pictures of Pretty Things is one heck of an achievement.

Where to Get It: Check back soon for purchase links

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Alan Haber’s Pure Pop Radio is the premiere website covering the melodic pop scene with in-depth reviews of new and reissued recordings, and a wide variety of features. We’ve been around since the first weekly Pure Pop Radio shows, which began broadcasting in 1995, and the 24-hour Pure Pop Radio station, which ended last August.

Welcome to your number one home for coverage of the greatest melodic pop music in the universe from the ’60s to today.

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