Saturday, March 28, 2009

Review: Broken Promise Keeper "Ice Cold Pop"

Rob Stuart is the one-man band otherwise known as Broken Promise Keeper - my vote for one of the coolest "band" names of the year. The latest offering, "Ice Cold Pop" is another one of those bewildering discs that is so full of sound and harmonies that you find it difficult to believe that a single guy is behind it all.

BPK was active in the power pop scene in the mid-80s having some enviable brushes with fame, but life got in the way so to speak and the music stayed in his head rather than on a CD. But writing quality melodic rock and pop must be like riding a bike for BPK. What I love best about "Ice Cold Pop": the fun Rob Stuart is having in reviving his music effortless rubs off in an instantly contagious way.

"Ice Cold Pop" is an startling good album - BPK manages to remind us of the golden age of Southern Pop (think mid-80s R.E.M.) while demonstrating to us that he's embraced a diverse assortment of more contemporary pop (Red Button, The Galaxies, The Jellybricks) and can expertly weave a music tapestry with the old and the new. BPK goes beyond being a hardcore fan of power pop - he knows what makes things work and, as a result, he stirs in all the perfect ingredients to make "Ice Cold Pop" a near instant classic. We have a thick base of sticky melodies, generous harmonies, lyrics seasoned with wit and humor, and just the right amount of crunch with the guitar. "Ice Cold Pop" is one hell of an addictive cocktail.

The only item that struck me as a bit strange at the outset was the vocals. BPK has an adequate voice that gets the job done (and then some, in some cases), but the vocal tone just doesn't go down as smooth as the songwriting. I would love to hear what BPK could do with the resources a major label could supply, or if BPK collaborated with another vocalist. The good news is that the songs are so catchy and smart that I've acquired a taste for the vocals and keep spinning this disc nonstop.

It is hard to pick favorites from "Ice Cold Pop" - kind of like picking out which ice cube is your favorite one in the tray. But I will highlight "Directions", "Kristine", and the tragic comedy "I Blame James", which has BPK admitting that his childhood role models were James Kirk, Bond, and West, over a brilliant "secret agent" guitar riff - and then wondering why he doesn't win the fights and get the girl. By the way, the record is full of neat music-matches-lyrics tricks like the secret agent riff - to list one other example, BPK adds a carnival type organ in "Amusement Park Lover". "Look Out Hollywood" is another gem of hyper jangle pop, describing in his satirical fashion the all-too-familiar situation of our encounters with life's phonies. I also enjoyed the rare moment when BPK slowed things down a bit - appropriate at the sunset of the CD, with "Goodbye".

iPOD-worthy: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 11, 12

Broken Promise Keeper - official site.

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