The Secrets* - "Radio Heart" (Titan: It’Äôs All Pop!)
“Pop music” can refer to a number of different concepts. Most simply, it means “music that’s popular,” and reflects more fly-by-night fashion and fleeting industry hype than any unified aesthetic. In that sense, the Beatles were pop in the ’60s, Madonna is sometimes pop, and Li’l Wayne and Katy Perry were, for some reason, 2008’s pop to beat.
But that’s not what Kansas City’s Titan label meant by “pop,” having enjoyed no commercial success during its brief late-’70s lifespan. It was talking about “power pop,” a heavily codified subgenre of rock that dates back to the Who and the Beatles, but really crystallized in the ’70s with Badfinger, Big Star and, most cartoonishly, the Raspberries. “Power pop” is melodic, economical, compressed, generally blues-averse guitar-bass-drums music. Its influence has slowly waned over the decades, but it still supports a vast, ghettoized subculture. For years, modishly dressed power-pop collectors have fought over Titan singles. Now, thanks to Chicago’s classiest reissue label, we can all find out what the largely irrelevant fuss is about.
While power-pop music is nontoxic and predictable by definition, its lyrics often conceal neurosis, passive-aggression and misanthropy. (See the Posies, early Weezer, other shaggy-haired ’90s bands, and definitely Elvis Costello.) It’s All Pop! gets all of that out of the way on the vagina dentata scare track “It’s Your Heart Tonight,” by Secrets*. The rest of this stuff is almost ridiculously innocent. When the manchild protag of Bobby Sky’s “The Water” walks you toward the lake, you don’t need to worry about getting pushed in. And when the narrator of Gary Charlson’s bar-band-competent “Shark” invites you to “come over so we can make out in the dark,” you needn’t bother shaving your legs – if this kid gets a feel of tit through your sweater, his heart will probably explode.
All the Titan acts are shamelessly derivative (what did you pay for?), but some derive more shamelessly than others. J.P. McClain apes Costello’s sneering affectations without any of his genuine nerd rage. Which is fine. McClain’s awkward flirtations are better off without it. And it’s hard to imagine Boys sounding any more like the Raspberries if you put them in matching suits, but it doesn’t make “Please Change Your Mind” and “We’re Too Young” any less exhilarating than anything else in the subgenre.
Power pop songs are best sampled piecemeal, as they get overwhelming, one after another, on comps such as this. Dip in selectively, and you’ll likely grab something safe, tuneful and timeless.