Mark Bacino’s first two albums, ‘Pop Job: The Long Player’ and ‘Million Dollar Milkshake’ are fantastic records. Simple as that. Both releases are chock-full of infectious hooks which stick in the head for days. ‘Million Dollar Milkshake’ could possibly be one of the greatest ever power pop albums ever.
Bacino’s third release, 2010’s ‘Queens English’, presents somewhat of a departure from his earlier bubblegum/power pop sound, presenting him in more of a singer-songwriter guise. It’s not as easy to get into as his first two albums and doesn’t always have such a feel-good quality, but its real life vignettes are more than endearing. ‘Queens English’ is named after the New York borough of Queens and the spirit of New York runs through each of the album’s tracks in the same way a seaside towns name runs through a stick of rock. But while Bacino’s other albums have a rock-candy sweetness, ‘Queens English’, is a mixture of sassiness and introspection. Sure, there are a few moments of his usual infectious pop, but it’s a record which definitely sees him branching out.
For fans of Bacino’s straight up power pop sound, ‘Muffin In The Oven’ and ‘Angeline & The Bensonhurst Boy’ do not disappoint. ‘Muffin’ – a song about being excited/nervous about a pregnancy – comes across as a mix of Jellyfish playing Billy Joel. Ron Zabrocki’s electric guitar leads are nicely played – in fact the whole track is impeccably arranged – but the greatest elements come from the meted horns, mellophone sounds and a simple ‘do do do’ hook – the kind Bacino knows will get in your head. ‘Angeline’ makes great use of horns once again, while the upbeat arrangement really captures a great mood, while Bacino himself delivers a confident, breezy vocal performance.
In a style never present in Bacino’s previous work, ‘Bridge and Tunnel’ has a slow sureness, with an upright bass marking time over a classy string arrangement. Bacino’s vocal is clear as he delivers his ode to the outer boroughs of New York – Brookyn, Staten Island, Bronx and Queens, where “the butt of all the jokes are the wheel and spokes of the city”. The New York quality of this song is so strong, it’s impossible to avoid. Had Randy Newman written it, it would be destined for a movie (either a montage or end credit placement, it really doesn’t matter). The same could be said for ‘Happy’, which sounds like a Randy Newman composition for children. On the surface, its shiny optimism is charming and works well thanks to great use of piano and Franch horn, but as with much Randy Newman-esque stuff, there’s a sarcastic streak below the surface. A similar rumpty-tumpty approach sits at the heart of ‘Who Are Yous?’ where Bacino delivers a similarly simple tune and hook…but then, who said great tunes had to be complex?
‘Queens English’ also features a couple of very personal moments where Bacino recounts moments with his young son. ‘Camp Elmo’, telling a tale of life-changing events a new baby brings, utilises a similar piano simplicity as heard on ‘Happy’ and could be seen as a little twee; however, ‘Ballad of M & LJ’ – a pure celebration of being a father – is far stronger, particularly in the cheekiness of its lyrics, especially the suggestion that Mark and Lee Joseph “might eat three ice cream cones and listen to The Kinks when mommy’s not home”. The work of Ray Davies, a small child + a giant sugar rush…sounds like a fun day.
To balance out the more personal, softer aspects of the album, the title track presents Bacino in a rockier mood than ever before. A tough power pop guitar riff drives the number, while the simple hook of “speakin’ the Queens, speakin’ the Queens” is one of the album’s most instant and direct. The seventies edge of the riff has an almost glam rock feel and a rock ‘n’ roll piano thrown into the mix just adds to the general frivolity. At just under two minutes, it makes its exit almost as quickly as it arrived.
While ‘Queens English’ often retains Bacino’s gift for penning two and three minute gems which never labour their point, it’s not as instantly gratifying as ‘Pop Job…The Long Player’ or ‘The Million Dollar Milkshake’. Stylistically, it shows Bacino maturing as a songwriter and it’s only after repeated spins that its semi-autobiographical nature provides a very rewarding listen. Stick with it – you won’t be disappointed.