Reviews: 3.14.19: Joe Sullivan’s Growing Up Schlockstar: Love and Attraction, and Armchair Oracles Hearts You

By Alan Haber – Pure Pop Radio

Joe Sullivan | Growing Up Schlockstar
(Futureman, 2019)

Joe Sullivan’s Schlock Star was an obvious hit platter when it came out in 2014, partly because it was such a surprise and pure of spirit and joyful in song. It stood out among that year’s top releases because it didn’t pretend to be anything other than the culmination of an honest day’s work.

Schlock Star felt like a natural, pure collection of natural, pure songs. You could tell within seconds of spinning it that Joe had natural talent, that given the right circumstances, he would always deliver on the promise of that first record. And so he has, here in 2019, with the sequel to Schlock Star, cheekily entitled Growing Up Schlockstar, an even more wonderfully entertaining half-hour-long melodic pop album that, plainly put, is more fun to listen to than you could ever imagine.

It’s almost as if Joe wrote the 10 songs on Growing Up Schlockstar to provide clarity to listeners who have been looking at their growing up years and wondering what it all amounts to. Of course, Joe is most interested in what those turns of calendar pages amount to for his edification, but no matter–we all take from songs what satisfies our souls.

Growing Up Schlockstar is, put simply, about love and happiness. There are songs about suburban nirvana (“Greenfield Acres”), high school sweethearting of the pom-pom variety (“Cheerleader”), celebrating with the one you love (“Birthday”), and true love through time and space (“Time Machine”).

Mostly, what there is is emotion, looking at a life and knowing its value, played through in pop, rock and roll songs that point to the past as much as they embody the here and now. There are spot-on references to Brian May’s guitarring and the sound of Jellyfish and Fountains of Wayne, but moreover there is the sound of Joe, which is the sum of a whole lot of parts.

Joe Sullivan, grown up Schlockstar

Emotion is all over these songs. “Birthday” sounds like the lively and loud mix of guitars, bass, drums and cowbell is looking to break out of the hoosegow even if it takes all night. “Greenfield Acres,” the place where youthful dreams were made, glides along like a Jellyfish outtake with the addition of a very Brian Mayish guitar line, joyous harmonies and a lovely melody.

The biggest emotion at play in these songs is love, is attraction, is two hearts beating as one. In the album closer, the Fountains of Waynesy “Space Princess,” attraction is played out within the confines of a space opera. The path of the imperfect, throwback male explorer (“He gambles, drinks, and smokes cigars/But she doesn’t care/She wants to run her fingers through his 1970s feathered hair”) is set. “Super fantastic intergalactic/You don’t mess/With a space princess,” the explorer observes. “I’ve got my phaser/Set to amaze her/She’s the best/My space princess.”

You don’t mess with perfection, and that’s what you get with Joe and his partners-in-song on Growing Up Schlockstar. Andy Reed, who produced and engineered, always capturing the best performances, plays bass. Drummer Donny Brown puts the oomph where it belongs in his usual skillful, emotive way. Joe sings, strums, picks, wails and generally makes his guitars sing. And Brandon Schott adds a large measure of peace and love to the nostalgic childhood look back, “Gifted and Talented.”

Growing Up Schlockstar, with a colorful cover full of childlike wonder by John Bellsmith, is a joy to behold.

Where to Get It (Releases on April 1): Check back for purchase links

Armchair Oracles | “Porcelain Heart” and “All My Time” (2018),
“Downsized Life” (2019)

The delightful songs that have so far been released by Norway’s Armchair Oracles, in advance of the band’s upcoming third album, Caught by Light, have brought some welcome light into this life. With these songs, this charming band is well on its way to releasing a joyous collection of melodic pop gems.

These three lovingly crafted songs reach out and touch the sounds of the 1970s and 1980s, while also hugging contemporary sensibilites. All three are extremely catchy earworms drifting atop gorgeous melodies and beautifully-realized arrangements.

I heart Armchair Oracles, and you will too.

Where to Get It: CD Baby (all three songs)

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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.

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