Anton Barbeau

Power Pop!!!

The decidedly non-English 'English eccentric' resurrects his teenage compositions for an album of medical grade pop songs

If you like Robyn Hitchcock, Julian Cope, and XTC and have not heard Anton Barbeau yet, what are you waiting for? Although American-born and having spent recent years living in Berlin, he’s an ‘English eccentric’ without a passport. With a large, and very often wonderful, back catalogue to boot. His latest offering veers towards his quirkiest, while still delivering some fine pop music. Not ‘power pop’ per se, a genre he defines with a dictionary definition on the back cover as “a guitar-based form of self-limiting pop music created primarily by/for unrequited men who wish the Beatles had never invited Dylan up to their hotel room”. And there is much more humor throughout the album.

The disc opens with the brief and brooding ‘Entre-Vous Dans Les Maisons’, pianos and synths that would be right at home in the 70s though far from the genre ostensibly being dealt with here. Up next comes ‘Power Pop’. Although the title track itself lacks the exclamation points, it is nevertheless full of hooks, like you’d expect, as well as, more obscurely, allusions to food. ‘Crop’ and ‘slop’ obviously rhyming with ‘pop’. The line “out with the old, in with the old again” is notable for the great melodic lift it gives as well as its resonance with the theme. Julian Cope alumnus Donald ‘Donn-Eye’ Ross Skinner lays down some of his signature guitar work, and this won’t be the only time The Arch-Drude comes up on the record, getting his own song at track eleven. ‘Julian Cope’ is a catchy ode to the man himself, whom Barbeau has toured and – as told within the tune – gotten high with. The song gets a bit meta as it is reminiscent of, though more detailed than, Cope’s own ‘Robert Mitchum’. Barbeau’s adoration is apparent and it is perhaps no coincidence then that Power Pop!!! occasionally puts one in mind of Fried.

‘The Never Crying Wolf Boy’ is another poppy highlight, its pre-chorus and middle eight in particular. More mentions of mushrooms, which over the course of his career Barbeau has confessed his fondness for, and there are a couple of times on the record, such as in the middle of ‘The Drugs’ and end of ‘Running On The Edge Of The Knife’, where the song itself starts sounding like it’s tripping. There’s some non-essential stuff on here as well. Six interstitial pieces that range from six seconds to just under a minute. Of these, ‘Slash Zed Zip’ is ultra-poppy while ‘Hillbilly Village’ sounds just like you think it would.

The best songs come at the end – ‘Whisper In The Wind’, ‘Rain, Rain’, and ‘Valerie’s Waiting’ – in what is labelled the ‘Teen Suite’. If it wasn’t pointed out in the liner notes that these are resurrected teenage compositions, one would never know, and only goes to show that Mr. Barbeau has been writing quality songs for a long time now. These updated recordings, while keeping to a lo-fi 80s electronic palette, are lovely all around.

It would not do to let this review end without pointing out the excellent female vocals that enhance a good number of these tunes, courtesy of Rosie Abbot and Julia VBHV. With these and other collaborators, Power Pop!!! sounds like it was fun to make, not so much a party vibe as more of a smaller gathering with good-time medicinal assistance, and the tunes pointed out above should make good gateway drugs to delving into the rest of Anton Barbeau’s oeuvre.

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