Space Place Records/2011
The art of homage is well-practiced, but not always artfully executed or achieved, and it comes in all forms: a lifted lick or two here, a couple of cover songs there. It might just be the spirit of a band or song that is incorporated into a new composition, or a new composition might be a tip of the hat to another songwriter. Regardless, the art of homage is a particular, singular execution that doesn't always lend itself to audience affection. If it were easy to achieve, everyone would do it, and do it well.
The fellows in Longplayer do it extremely well, with great style and affection for what has come before. The group's debut album, just under 36 minutes long, is so artfully executed, so chock full of homage, that it might not be fair to call it anything less than a new kind of achievement like, say, a longplayer bulging with longing for the past. But that wouldn't take into consideration the contemporary sheen that multi-instrumentalists Ulf Holmberg (a special breed of guitar virtuoso) and GD Hjertstedt have layered on top of the proceedings, so let's simply say that Longplayer's debut longplayer is the cat's meow and leave it at that.
This is, in fact, a contemporary recording. Holmberg and Hjertstedt know that past what has come before, they're not recording their album in 1985, so the music has to pop in the current style and sound, whether or not it's of the homage variety. An album that swims in a pool of homage better be played by players who have the chops to pull it off. Frankly, they'd better have the chutzpah, too, because some people are going to come running, yelling "There's so much of my favorite band in your music, where is there room for you?" The truth is, artists are formed by their influences, so the "retro" tag is always going to be applied by somebody.
Never mind the bollocks, I say. Longplayer's debut is bursting at the seams with retro. In fact, the band says so on their website: "Longplayer's debut album contains nothing but fresh new songs, but quotes from our idols are certainly not few and nor are they far apart. The world of music knows no boundaries. Everything is allowed as long as it's got beat, appeals to the ear, and makes you want to move." Check, check, and triple-check.
Who do Holmberg and Hjertstedt tip their guitars to? Well, a whole lot of Jeff Lynne and ELO, that's for sure, but also the Beatles and the Who. In fact, the quotes from the band's idols are so skillfully woven into the proceedings, you'll find it hard to pick them all out, but you'll be hard-pressed to feel anything but joy just the same. It's only March, but I'm confident in saying you won't have as much fun listening to an album this year as you will listening to this one, nothing less than a modern pop masterpiece. Like ice cream on a hot, sunny day, Longplayer is a gift from the gods, one tasty lick at a time.
And speaking of licks, they lead off with an instrumental, "Space Place Cafe," named after Holmberg's studio, that starts out firmly in The Who's Tommy territory. The track sets the stage for what is to come, and come it does, blasting out of your speakers with a spirited, ELO workout, "Won't Let You Down," that wouldn't sound out of place on any of ELO's later albums. Neither would "The Messenger, for that matter, or the groovy "Cool Cat Walk."
Everything is allowed as long as it's got beat, appeals to the ear, and makes you want to move. Check, check, and triple-check.
Or "The Morning News." Past the ELO nods, there is a superbly styled fifties doo-wop ("Wild Wild Woman"); a mid-tempo ballad with characteristic Lynne touches ("The Explorer"); a power ballad with a teriffic melodic payoff ("The Power"); and "The Traveller," which features some lovely, David Gilmour-esque lead playing from Holmberg. The whole affair gets wrapped up in the uptempo rock and roller "Red Wall of Sound." "It's a new world sound from eternity to your town" Hjertstedt sings. "And if music doesn't pay/Couldn't live any other way anyway/A red wall of sound will shake your ground." It's about a musician's (and a listener's) committment to hanging on to the musical dream, no matter what.
It's rare to come upon a record so imbued with joy, and even rarer to find musicians equipped to deliver it with such class. God knows what Longplayer is capable of past this record, but I'll bet everything in my pocket that it will be something else, created with great style and affection. Until the next chapter, enjoy this longplayer.
March 5, 2011