Marc Valentine’s ‘Futura Obscura’ album, released during the death throes of 2022, tapped into a whole world of old fashioned power pop sounds. Its wall of guitars drew heavily from a world of early 80s heroes, but also from early Weezer, and Valentine’s hooky approach to songwriting ensured that a selection of huge choruses sounded great, whatever the era and however much his core sound relied on a throwback quality. His 2023 single ‘Jinx of Finchley Road’ went a step further in the infectious stakes by adding a world of tinkly keys to a marching beat, instantly shifting his retro pop from Weezer-world into a place where the ghosts of Jellyfish loomed with a largeness that was impossible to ignore. If Valentine hadn’t previously been on the list of power pop performers to look out for, this was a single that would certainly get him more of the attention he deserved.
This swiftly released follow up – issued by the US label Wicked Cool Records – adds yet more gold to Marc’s growing catalogue. Much rockier than ‘Jinx’, ‘Skeleton Key’ opens with a huge, crashy riff, augmented by muted guitar notes cutting through with a Morse-like urgency, immediately demanding the listeners’ attention. Moving into the meat of the track, a busy riff – almost adding an old school pop punk edge to the huge power pop – drives the song forward with speed, but extra layers of guitar are on hand with occasional Weezer-ish melodies and a few unexpected hard rock leads. Valentine, meantime, takes the huge melody in hand and adds a brilliantly breezy vocal that sounds a hell of a lot like The Wannadies’ Per Wiksten, which will certainly attract fans of 90s power pop with a relative ease. Whereas the rumpty-tumpty melody at the heart of ‘Jinx’ occasionally outshone everything else, here, the chorus hook is so huge, it hits with the subtlety of a truck – in the best possible way – and it takes all of two plays before ‘Skeleton Key’ sounds like a twenty first century power pop classic.
A cover of ‘Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow’, offered on the flip, is less fortunate. The number, written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King in the 60s, has an aching plea for a hook. When left in female hands, as surely intended, that plea sounds heartfelt. When the roles are reversed, it seems weird and a little clingy. Maybe this hasn’t been helped by Graham Bonnet’s rather misjudged rendition from 1981, but it just doesn’t work as effectively. Nevertheless, Marc gives the old chestnut his best shot, and by delivering the music as if it were an old CBGB’s banger from the world of Real Kids – all hard edged, 60s derived garage rock guitars and late 70s new wave-ish synths – the music works on its own merits. The light, bubblegum pop vocal occasionally gets lots in the noise, but between a great guitar solo and a familiar melody or six, it just about holds its own – enough to provide an interesting twist on an over-familiar tune, even though you’re unlikely to play it anywhere near as much as ‘Skeleton Key’.
On the strength of ‘Skeleton Key’, it’s really easy to hear why Marc Valentine would be considered one of power pop’s rising stars at the time of its release. It’s also obvious why a US label like Wicked Cool would be keen to have the British performer on its roster. At its best, Valentine’s work is a perfect fit alongside the label’s other key power pop artists – Kurt Baker, Kris Rodgers and Jesse Malin – and he is another perfect candidate to take a retro sound forward. If you shell out the price of a download for ‘Skeleton Key’, you won’t be disappointed. It’s another track that demonstrates a growing talent brilliantly, and another great example of why old school power pop will never actually get old, but if you haven’t already done so, backtrack and check out ‘Jinx of Finchley Road’ too – that really is Valentine at his best.