Stereo Sanctity Album of the Week
(October 5 - 11, 2008)
This review is featured on Music In Review Online
It's going to prove near impossible to read a review of the debut album from power-pop combo Gentleman Jesse & His Men that doesn't name-check The Exploding Hearts, the beloved (and much missed) Portland-based band whose one album run came to an abrupt end in 2003 following a van accident in which three of the groups four members were tragically killed. As you can probably tell, I'm not going to try and skirt the similarities either, but what makes Gentleman Jesse's self-titled debut so flat-out likable is, just like The Exploding Hearts' Guitar Romantic, it's unabashed infectiousness and straight-forward presentation. There isn't a whiff of pretension for the duration of the record's entire 32 minutes - a half hour chock full of some of the most instantly memorable pop hooks of the decade. What seems to get pushed under the rug in modern music criticism, at least when it comes to power pop, is just how much there will always be a need for a band such as The Exploding Hearts or now Gentleman Jesse & His Men. Music like this will never go out of style, and when it is as accomplished and exuberant as it is here, it can, in it's own way, put just about any other style of music to shame.
Now, with that being said and to continue the comparisons, The Exploding Hearts retained a unique punk sensibility and sharp edge, from their leather-clad look on down, that presented the band as a fully formed package. Gentlemen Jesse don't go in for that sort of thing - in fact, they look rather normal - but they more than make up for it with a record bursting at the seams with insanely simple but endlessly catchy melodies. This is guitar pop played for the sole reason of playing guitar pop, no more, no less (their Myspace page breaks it down in even simpler terms: "We started a band and play music for humans and stuff".)
This isn't a band copping from a single source however. To their credit, the band's musical acumen runs a little deeper than that. The whole Modern Lovers and Soft Boys vibe is unavoidable to be sure, yet they channel each with a verve and moxie that feels immediately fresh and free of guilt. Even the album cover, an obvious Elvis Costello homage, registers as a charming tip of the hat rather than self-important grandstanding. This is a band that knows it's forebears well, and makes no bones about their love for all things pop, yet it's that very attitude which elevates the record above the level of mere pastiche. They aren't trying to necessarily write another "Roadrunner", "I Wanna Destroy You" or even "Modern Kicks", but regardless of intention, many of these 12 songs come frighteningly close to perfection.
The formula is simple: two or three chords, verse-chorus-verse structure, and a universal sentiment usually involving booze, a girl or some combination of both, slapped together and run through with an enveloping energy - and all in 2 1/2 minutes. Every song here warrants a spotlight paragraph, yet somehow the constant momentum and gradual build of the record gives it the feel of being greater than the some of it's already fantastic parts. Since my first exposure to this record, I've rarely felt the need to listen to anything else (always the sign of something great). Once playing, I dare you to eject it from your CD player or skip a single song on your iPod. It is, quite simply and whether you care to admit it or not, the most flat-out contagious power-pop record since, well, Guitar Romantic.
Highlights: "Highland Crawler", "The Rest of My Days", "Butterfingers", "You Don't Have To (If You Don't Want To)", "You Got Me Where You Want Me"
RIYL: The Exploding Hearts, The Modern Lovers/Jonathan Richman, The Soft Boys/Robyn Hitchcock, Elvis Costello
"You Don't Have To (If You Don't Want To)"