MARK BACINO – Top Of The World

Mark Bacino’s 2010 album ‘Queens English’ saw the US singer songwriter moving away from the perfect bubblegum pop he’d shared on his earlier records, but for those willing to invest the time, it was an album rich in character. With a narrative theme concerning home and family, the material was more mature: ‘Happy’ revisited the sounds of Randy Newman; ‘Muffin’ hinted at a love of Billy Joel, and the title cut opted for something a little more direct with a pinch of 70s glam informing its sound. It was the kind of record that worked best as a whole, and yet could still be cherry-picked.

At the point where it was expected that Bacino would deliver a follow up, he just seemed to disappear from the music scene. Not that he’d stopped working; he actually spent years working as a musician within the TV industry, but making another album clearly wasn’t a priority. Even with several new songs written by 2014, fans weren’t given even a hint of a forthcoming record. A stand-alone single, ‘Not That Guy’ finally appeared in 2016, but following that, the musician withdrew once more, and at times, it almost felt as if he would never be heard from again. Needless to say, the release of ‘Top of The World’ in June 2024 came as something of a surprise, but what would it offer those who’d essentially waited for over a decade for a new album?

On the surface, ‘Top of The World’ is as varied as ‘Queens English’, but digging deeper, it’s a record that has more of a cheeky charm. Lead track ‘Kaylee Hughes’ opens with a flurry of brass, and then breaks into a 70s swagger that makes the best of a great bassline and electric piano. Armed with a questioning vocal, Bacino works through a slightly sassy vocal, building upon the track’s pop-ish and rather fun style. The instrumental break, absolutely loaded with electric piano, provides the number with its musical highlight, and elsewhere, the way a core melody rises and falls adds more of a frivolous quality. It’s interesting how a 70s sound slides easily into a bridge where more of a 60s tone is applied; you might think the two moods would contrast each other, but the arrangement here is very slick, and Bacino manages to link them with a genuine vocal ease. It’s great to hear his voice again, but he’s actually outshone by a rather cheeky arrangement which sounds as if were inspired by a musical montage from an old children’s film. If you can find a love for its knowing style, then ‘Top of The World’ certainly has more to offer.

Sounding even more like something written with an old movie in mind, ‘Flop of The World’ applies a 30s jazz influence to a pop singer songwriter’s palette, and Bacino absolutely nails something that sounds like Randy Newman colliding with bits of the ‘Bugsy Malone’ soundtrack. Stylistically, it isn’t a million miles away from a ‘Queens English’ deep cut, but there’s plenty about the brassy arrangement and Mark’s natural vocal style that makes the already familiar arrangement shine. The jaunty side of a Paul Williams influence rears its head again on ‘I Like Wearing Clothes’, a number that shares a world of harmony vocals in tandem with a punchy bassline and stabbing piano. In lesser hands, it could be written off as novelty, but with a tight arrangement and shiny production that serves the vocal brilliantly, an unexpectedly jazzy lead guitar break and unexpected tuba flourishes, this actually sounds like a very natural extension to Bacino’s previous work.

Making even better use of brass, ‘He Never Saw It Coming’ works around a rumpty tumpty melody that sounds as if Bacino has been mainlining old Jellyfish and Portable Radio records. With a really strong tune in hand, he’s able to take a staple power pop sound further into a world where his music celebrates more of an old school singer songwriter feel. Some great, glam tinged electric guitars ensure everything never slides too far into easy listening territory, whilst a few grand bells advertise the layered production with ease. Despite just being a short instrumental, there’s a lot packed in here, and for those who’ve followed Bacino’s career for a long time, it’s a welcome reminder of how much care he takes over the small details when required. Adopting more of a mellow mood, the slower ‘Shaky Hand’ works a slow piano riff – very much in the Billy Joel and Richard Carpenter school of simple melodies – but it’s quickly augmented by a world of orchestration which brings a brilliant 70s sound. There are moments where you might find yourself wondering if Mark has been spending time with Nilsson records during that extended time away, but his natural vocal always ensures fans will never mistake this for anyone else, whilst ‘Young Heart’ pushes the bass to the fore, takes in a country melody and celebrates a different kind of AM radio sound. The music isn’t as inspiring as your typical Bacino tune – the rhythm feels a little stodgy – but it’s the epitome of “slow burner”; something that initially feels a little flat shares a few great moments, ranging from a Wings-ish instrumental break, a half-buried flurry of piano notes, and even more of a 60s inspired riff creeping in towards the end. It’ll never rival something like ‘Kaylee Hughes’ for pure entertainment, but in showing off yet another angle of Bacino’s songcraft, it’s effective enough.

Elsewhere, you’ll find ‘Not That Guy’ finally finding a home as part of a bigger body of work, and eight years on from its single release, the stabbing rhythms, obvious love for Jeff Lynne and classic power pop cool come together in a track that immediately broadcasts a sunny feel; ‘How The Story Ends’ which gives this record another lilting affair that could be a deep cut from Billy Joel’s ‘Turnstiles’ with its 70s sheen and 50’s heart, and ‘Why Does This Woman Love Me?’ plays like another Paul Williams inspired ditty that combines another lolloping rhythm with a self-depreciating lyric. There are moments where a tale involving OCD and wearing socks in bed could venture too far into a world of quirky for the sake of it, but a well played acoustic guitar solo and Bacino’s obvious belief in the material goes a long way here to helping the end result feel rather more heartfelt. It’s certainly another track that fans of the more personal elements of ‘Queens English’ will take to heart.

The gap between Mark Bacino’s third and fourth albums might have taken on ‘Chinese Democracy’ like proportions, but there are some fine songs here. The recordings aren’t Mark’s most slick, production wise, but in some ways, that gives the best material a little more heart. At a little over twenty three minutes, the record flies by, but its brevity means there’s also very little filler to be found. Short as this may be, this songwriter’s gifts for several old school melodies are as assured as ever, and if you liked ‘Queens English’, then ‘Top of The World’ will certainly appeal.

June 2024

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