TRUE HEARTS – True Hearts

Originally formed as The Flirt in 1979 but quickly renaming themselves True Hearts, this Texan band released a largely overlooked EP on Counterfeit Records in 1980. Eleven songs were recorded with the intent of releasing a full-length LP, but that never actually came to fruition.  Over the next couple of years, True Hearts suffered personnel instability and subsequently disbanded in 1982, leaving most of their recordings unheard.

Over thirty years on from the recording of that shelved LP, the eleven songs recorded by True Hearts’ original line-up were compiled for a belated CD release.  The result is a disc which shows a band who, with a better start and a little sharpening up, could have been peers with Pezband, Off Broadway and 20/20.

With a winning combination of an accessible melody and simple chorus hook, ‘Not Tonight’ captures the band’s sound well from a musical perspective.   Throughout this opening number, guitarist Manuel Martinez puts in maximum effort and subsequently steals the show with his mix of new-wavish rhythm work and ringing lead parts (the first of which dominates the intro).  Similarly, there’s some great stuff occurring behind the drum kit, as Rick Holeman throws in a few interesting fills and some unexpected bell sounds.  In theory, these great elements should have made a killer track.  On the rather more unfortunate side of things, lead vocalist Terry Carolan has a voice that isn’t always the easiest to like.  His poppy croon wavers a little off key, something not helped by backing vocals which seem equally slapdash.  Much better, ‘I Need You All The Time’ is a harmony driven pop-rocker which is good as any the early eighties offered; with the addition of a few keyboards, True Hearts sound more assured, while chorus-wise this tune really hits the spot.  In terms of influence, a little Raspberries, a little Cheap Trick and a whole lotta Pezband makes a winning formula.  The piano driven ‘If I’m Late’ shows a quirkier side to the band with stabbing rhythms, a wandering bass part and some pompy vocals providing plenty of bounce.  Given the lack of guitars on this number, you’d think that Carolan would falter vocally, but he sounds very natural – complimenting the music well, even – leaving you to wonder what had gone so wrong on ‘Not Tonight’…

‘Girl In a Men’s Magazine’, on the other hand, is bad both musically and lyrically.  Its stark musical arrangement presents a piano waltz underpinned by synth sounds.  Lacking in any bass, drums or guitars, this leaves everything sounding really twee.  While Carolan’s vocal holds its own, his lyrics concerning a pin up (and the teenage wanting thereof) are just cringe inducing.  A fuller musical arrangement may have helped disguise the bad subject matter, but it still would have been pretty bad.  Luckily, since this track is barely a minute and a half in duration, by the time you’ve realised how awful it is, it’s very nearly over.  What follows is one of the album’s best.  ‘Trust Me Candy’ cashes in on a great harmony filled chorus, chiming chords worthy of The Knack and a relatively decent guitar solo.  There are a few rough edges here (a couple of dodgy notes in the solo and a slightly flat sounding drum), but that’s all part of its overall charm.  Connoisseurs of power pop from between 1977-1980 are sure to find an instant familiarity, but then, that’s no bad thing.

Rather more upbeat than most of True Hearts’ songs, ‘Sleep Tight’ melds classic power pop with a slightly trashier rock ‘n’ roll aesthetic, allowing guitarist Martinez to cut loose on a couple of raggedy solos while Carolan pushes his voice to the limit.  Had the band given this to Cheap Trick instead, it wouldn’t have sounded too out of place on their earlier records.  A double whammy of enjoyment, ‘Hold Me Close/Don’t Stop’ at first mixes reasonable harmonies with a few power chords, resulting in a solid outing on which Carolan sounds better than usual.  As good as this is, it’s the track’s second part (‘Don’t Stop’) that’s the clincher. Holeman attacks his hi-hat and snare with the kind of vigour not always evident on the rest of the disc, while the rest of the chaps also appear a little more aggressive.   Overall, there are no huge surprises, but here – as with ‘Sleep Tight’ – you’ll get a brief glimpse into how great True Hearts could be if/when they really tried.

Despite a few iffy vocals – and the fact that these recordings have moments where all four band members seem almost incapable of achieving musical greatness at the same time – there was obviously a reasonable amount of talent within True Hearts.   Based on these songs, they aren’t quite as enjoyable as some of the similar bands from the period (especially Pezband or Tommy Tutone), but given a better chance, who knows what they would have achieved?  What we are left with is a curio that captures an emerging talent which, for fans of late seventies power pop, is a fascinating look at what might have been.

October 2012


Recorded during the same sessions for their second EP, this third release from Dutch power poppers Sunday Sun finishes a trilogy of EPs released throughout 2012.  While that second EP wasn’t quite as strong as the first, this final part makes up for any previous minor disappointments, delivering the band’s strongest set of songs.  Those who took an instant liking to Sunday Sun’s previous work will be pleased to note that ‘III’ offers no musical curveballs or surprises… As such, it’s less important to go into any lengthy details here – everything you need to know about this band has likely already been said.  In a nutshell, though, this third EP takes the band’s strongest elements and – if anything – improves on them, giving the listener seven slices of near-perfect pop.

The most instant “hit” comes from ‘Better Than That’, a track featuring lavish pop harmonies, crisp sounding guitars and tinkling glockenspiels.  It takes everything you’ve loved about Sunday Sun’s prior work and turns it up to eleven, perhaps showing a strong love of Fountains of Wayne in the process.  Almost as good, ‘Light Up The Sky’ at first sounds like it’s going to be a little different, with a strong focus on tinkling pianos.  It’s not long, though, before a very strong rhythm section reinstates their beloved rumpty-tumpty marching beat (as heard on ‘Sunday Sun’) and the band drop into the kind of pop they could write (and possibly perform) in their sleep.  ‘Sing’ is a sugary number which includes another upfront bass part (expertly played by Jan Teerstra) against ringing guitars worthy of many 60s Merseybeat recordings and a hook delivered with a world of Teenage Fanclub-esque harmonies.  The wordless “woo-ooo’s!” are maybe a little unnecessary, but considering all other elements here are superb, the track still works brilliantly.

The rest of ‘III’ is very good, despite Sunday Sun’s insistence on sticking rigidly to the kind of pop at which they’ve previously excelled.  The semi-acoustic ‘Beating Low’ offers another slight 60s influence, more great harmonies and a lovely simple chorus; ‘Honest & True’ melds a doo-wop vibe with some perfect power pop chords, a strong lead vocal and ‘Imagination’ mixes dreamy keyboard chords, marching beats and bell percussion, topping them off with harmonies culled straight from the Beach Boys school of vocalising.  While never thinking outside of the box in terms of arrangement, it is guaranteed these tunes won’t take too long to get right under the skin…

Ending this release, ‘White Is All I See’ is a wistful acoustic number, where natural sounding vocals meet a string section to create something showing a more emotional side to the band’s sound than ever before.  Whereas Sunday Sun’s earlier attempt at acoustic gentleness (the first EP’s ‘How Come I Miss You So Much’) ended up being little more than filler material, this is fully formed and well orchestrated and, as a result, more sophisticated. It’s a fine way to bring this trilogy of releases to a close.

Sunday Sun’s EP trilogy comprises eighteen songs in all, most of which are incredibly fine examples of sun-filled power pop.  Had the band trimmed the selection down and issued their best twelve/thirteen tracks as a full-length LP, that LP would have been one of the greatest power pop debuts ever – up there with Jellyfish’s ‘Bellybutton’.  As it is, all three EPs are very good indeed, but ‘III’ outshines them all.

October 2012


On the surface, ‘Mr Blue Sky’ masquerades as yet another Electric Light Orchestra compilation featuring most of the usual suspects.  There’s more to this 2012 release than just mere “greatest hits” however, since Jeff Lynne has succumbed to artistic licence.  Although many ELO records remain beloved by a cross section of pop, pomp and prog rock fans, Lynne felt that by more more modern recording/production techniques, those old hits could do with a dusting down and polishing up and so, has completely re-recorded each of the tracks included here.

…Or so says his official line.  Earlier in 2012 Def Leppard made threats about re-recording their back-catalogue since they were effectively being screwed by their record company.  If these tunes exist via a similar dispute to the one that plagued the Leps, then fair play to Lynne, he has done a fantastic job.  If, as he claims, these were recorded to tweak and improve and nothing more, he has still turned in a fantastic job.

While these re-recordings undoubtedly please Lynne by fixing whatever he thought wrong with them previously, thankfully he never stretches the fans’ goodwill by adding anything too outlandish; the arrangements (although a little shinier all round) by and large stick firmly to their original blueprints.  As such, they are far more concerned with utilising modern technology and Lynne’s further experience as producer – that doesn’t actually make the works of ELO more palatable for more modern ears.  As such, it would still be easy for a non-fan to accuse them of sounding quite dated in terms of their falsetto vocals, analogue synthesisers and use of vocoders, all dished up with an abundance of flared-trousered, hair-permed goodness.  From a fan perspective, on the other hand, if that’s why you loved (and continue to love) ELO, you certainly wouldn’t want any of that to change.   Leaving no stone unturned on this selection of tunes, the tweaking is only ever relatively minor, but even so, for those who know the hits inside out, the amendments really jump out – and often in a good way.

So what’s so different?  Most obviously, on the always brilliant ‘Don’t Bring Me Down’, Lynne has opted to make the “Bruce!” chorus vocal marginally less silly, but more importantly, taken the piano part near the end and pushed it to the fore.  The result sounds not unlike something from a wild west bar-room.  Despite these two relatively obvious differences, everything else closely mirrors the 1979 recording, so much so that the rattling noise at the very end is even re-recorded!  The differences on ‘Evil Woman’ and ‘Livin’ Thing’ are even more slight: on the former, we are given a crisper rhythm guitar part (a change for the better, probably) while on the latter, the pizzicato strings are more audible than ever before.  Both are certainly changes which fit the claim that Lynne only wanted to improve things rather than change them per se.  Similarly, ‘Do Ya’ benefits from a much louder lead guitar, which too, is a welcome amendment considering its place as one of the band’s rockier tunes.

One of ELO’s signature pieces, ‘Mr Blue Sky’ has become a radio staple and it is almost unthinkable that a version may exist that isn’t exactly the same as the one we’re heard regularly for decades…  Sadly, the spruced up 2012 recording doesn’t quite have the all round greatness of the original (or indeed, most of these re-recordings).  There’s certainly more definition between the chorus vocals and some may see that as a plus, but the drum sound doesn’t quite cut it and Jeff’s lead vocal doesn’t appear quite as sparky as before.  Everything’s almost right, yet – perhaps due to the sheer complexity of the piece – it doesn’t improve on the original version even slightly.  Perhaps ‘Out Of The Blue’s material was trickier to amend, since ‘Turn To Stone’ also comes out rather flat, with a particular weakness during the multi-tracked section of voices at 1:51.  To the non-ELO fan, those voices on the original cut can sound rather ridiculous with their falsetto; here, with a huge phased effect added, they don’t actually sound any less ridiculous or over-blown than before, they just sound a little gurgly.  On the plus side, the strings during the second half are more pronounced (though almost certainly provided by keyboards), but this has the knock on effect of making the drums sound somewhat woolly.  If this disc features any cuts that make you want to reach for your beloved originals rather quickly, these two are the most likely.   [Also, Jeff’s re-recording of ‘Mr Blue Sky’ isn’t as much fun as Holmes’s 2011 cover, which you can hear here.]

There are literally dozens of subtle (and occasionally not so subtle) differences peppered throughout the numbers on this collection; you can spend time spotting the rest for yourselves, since with this kind of project, therein lies most of the fun – after all, you wouldn’t want a review to spoil all of the surprises…would you?!

For those who want more than revisited material, this compilation also features a previously unreleased track.  With roots dating back to 2009, ‘Point of No Return’ is an excellent three minute pop tune, driven by ringing guitars.  A simple chorus and a general Wilbury-esque sound means the bulk of it would have sounded just as good in the hands of Tom Petty if Jeff had passed it on. However,  a subtle backing vocal – slight falsetto, no words – and a brief string sound creeping in at the end helps to give it just a little more of that ELO magic.  Although this sounds a little flat when measured against those Electric Light Orchestra classics, it is a welcome addition to Lynne’s back catalogue and is certainly far more enjoyable than anything included on his 2012 solo record ‘Long Wave’…

Revisiting past works out of perfectionism/vanity (delete as appropriate) can be a tricky business.  When Kate Bush re-recorded a bunch of vocals for her ‘Director’s Cut’ project, the results were more than misguided; when Squeeze invited listeners to ‘Spot The Difference’ in 2010, their approach may have been far more traditional, but when Difford and Tilbrook began to sing, that the “difference” became more than obvious.  With ‘Mr Blue Sky’s revisitations, Jeff Lynne, mercifully, fairs far better than both: he’s created a record that still entertains the casual listener with the ELO hits, while simultaneously giving the hardcore fan something to think about.  ‘Mr Blue Sky’ is a sharp reminder of why Lynne is considered by many to be one of pop music’s master craftsmen.

October 2012

TSAR – The Dark Stuff EP

Back in the early 2000s, an acquaintance gave me a CD-R of tracks by undervalued power pop/melodic alt-rock bands he loved – bands he felt deserved more attention.  While the exact contents of the homemade disc are now just a fuzzy memory, it introduced me to Far Too Jones and Sugarbomb – two sadly missed bands who released a couple of superb records.  Also included was the Tsar track ‘Kathy Fong Is The Bomb’ – a stupidly, stupidly infectious tune that mixed power pop and glam, ultimately delivering an absolute suckerpunch of a chorus which, once heard, was never to be forgotten.

I quickly sought out a copy of Tsar’s self-titled debut on the sheer strength of that track, only to be bitterly disappointed.  Despite numerous attempts to get into it, none of that album’s tunes hit me in the way ‘Kathy Fong’ did.  In fact, I found nothing else to be particularly memorable and eventually, I gave up trying to like it.  Tsar, meanwhile, released a follow up record a couple of years later and recorded demos for a third in 2008, before taking a brief hiatus.

The band reformed in 2010, some ten years after ‘Kathy Fong’ first lodged itself inside the heads of a few unsuspecting power pop connoisseurs.  In 2012, they released ‘The Dark Stuff’, a five song EP of brand new material, celebrating their brand of glam rock chops and power pop hooks as if they’d never been away.  In honesty, it’s fair to say that if you liked Tsar before, then ‘The Dark Stuff’ will be a welcome addition to your power pop collection.  If they never clicked with you first time around, even though parts of this EP have a more mature sound, chances are, they still won’t.

There are a couple of occasions where Tsar sound great, as they do on the lead track ‘Police Station’.  A combination of twin guitar leads and trashy pop collides to create something brilliantly disposable, while a wordless chorus adds to its overall dumbness and a rock ‘n’ roll guitar solo appears in danger of going totally off the rails…  It’s a great track, evocative of the wondrous Redd Kross.  ‘White Lipstick’ is an upbeat fuzzy, glammy affair replete with distorted vocals, where again, Tsar bear more than a slight resemblance to Redd Kross – but frankly, if this were the work of that band, the McDonald brothers would have taken things up a notch and absolutely smashed their audience into oblivion.  For Tsar, despite best efforts, such attitude seems to come far less naturally.

Less instant, ‘Punctual Alcoholic’ blends downtuned acoustic guitars with a harmony driven – though not especially memorable – hook, which when pulled across almost five minutes just wanders into indifference, while ‘Little Women’ brings similar harmonies to a slightly reverbed tune that never quite kicks in.   A little better, ‘Something Bad Happened To Me’ is a decent pop-rocker with a late 70s/early 80s influence, loaded with a a radio friendly hook and a great – if a little raggedy – guitar break.  Although the music is well arranged, it’s on this track that the vocal limitations become more apparent; as before, Jeff Whalen has one of those nasal voices which, if not approached in the right frame of mind, can grate fairly quickly.

Overall, ‘The Dark Stuff’s weaker moments make Tsar sound more mature than they did before, and obviously, that’s a plus.  And even though those weaker songs don’t have the chops to stay in on the mp3 player for the long term, they’re far from objectionable.   As for its two killer cuts, despite going in with all guns blazing, they may just not be killer enough to make ‘The Dark Stuff’ a favourite.  While the Redd Kross influence that powers those numbers is very, very welcome, after a few spins you may find yourselves reaching for a Redd Kross record instead…  [and if you’ve not already done so, make sure you check out their comeback disc ‘Researching The Blues’ – it’s one of 2012’s finest releases].

September 2012


On their debut EP, Dutch quartet Sunday Sun celebrated power pop in all its glory and power pop fans across the internet – rather rightly – rejoiced.  With regard to this second release, Sunday Sun could have chosen to deliver much more of the same, and those who loved the debut would have undoubtedly been very happy.  That would have been the easy option, but not necessarily the right one – after all, bands shouldn’t really stagnate/settle for over familiarity so early on, especially a band with so much to give.

While the band’s core sound remains intact, this time out, Sunday Sun has wisely chosen to branch out a little.  In fact, on ‘Take a Left’ the music packs a punch far harder than ever before. With Jan Teerstra’s bass firmly set to “fuzz” and Koen-Willem Toering’s guitar cranked, Sunday Sun totally rock out for thee and a half minutes on a tune which works itself around a stomping riff.  When the chorus appears, the seventies pop vibes are far stronger – driven by a very strong McCartney/Wings influence – and the balance between fuzzy rock and pure pop makes this track a belter.  On the first EP’s ‘I Love You So Much’, Sunday Sun dipped their musical toes into the world of the more melancholy. Although some enjoyed that short track, it doesn’t really prepare the listener for the much more epic ‘You’, a fully-formed, introspective number which, at first, sounds like it’s not going to go the distance.  The tune – possibly inspired by similar marathons of misery from Big Star’s ‘Third’ – is slow and maudlin, and while the vocal is heartfelt, it just doesn’t seem to be able to hit its mark.  …And then, something happens which completely turns the piece around: a couple of minutes in, Sunday Sun introduce a brass band arrangement, which adds that missing ingredient.   Between the brass, the relatively minimalist tune and aching vocal, the song eventually becomes enjoyable in its sadness…but it is unlikely to become a fan favourite.

Although its intro comes drenched in harmony vocals, ‘Ready’ is not the Beach Boys pastiche you may be expecting on first listen.  While similar harmonies are on hand to power the chorus, they do not actually provide the song’s main drive.  That, instead, comes from another fuzzy bassline, which when pitched against a marching drum (supplied here by Wouter Rentema) could be likened to Jellyfish (as always).  Although very much in the power pop genre, there’s something a little more raucous lurking underneath, giving a slight hint of 70s glam as well as the usual power pop.  As with ‘Take A Left’, this slight toughening up of traditional power pop elements seems to really suit this band.  Beginning gently with some echoing guitars, ‘Summer Holiday’ quickly gains a solid footing via a simply pounded drum and some handclaps.  After the initial promise, it does very little else for almost four minutes, so it’s not especially gripping. While the end sound is as polished as most of Sunday Sun’s work, the melodies seem a little unfinished, as if they’re always waiting for that eventual big key change to kick in.

Listeners who wanted something more akin to the first EP will find plenty of thrills within the remaining couple of tracks. ‘Ordinary Love’ is a brilliant pop/rock tune, utilising handclaps, electric piano, sharp rhythmic acoustic strums and a very catchy chorus.  Yoshi Breen is in brilliant lead voice throughout and – as with the best Sunday Sun tunes – an accompanying backing vocal choir gives everything a huge lift.  With a sixties-esque beat – dressed up in the usual power pop revival way – ‘Now Is Now’, is a hugely uplifting tune that really brings out their best qualities.  There are some tight harmonies on a very accessible hook, while the music breezes along with absolute abandon.  Like The Genuine Fakes meets Fountains Of Wayne (and with another superb bassline) ‘Now Is Now’ is just wonderful – easily this second EP’s shining star.

Both ‘Summer Holiday’ and ‘You’ slow down this EP’s momentum, so upon early listens ‘II’ doesn’t always feel quite as strong as ‘I’.  That said, ‘Ordinary Love’ and ‘Ready’ provide more great examples of Sunday Sun’s talent, further making their mark upon the genre, and ‘Now Is Now’ ranks among the band’s absolute best songs.  If you enjoyed the first EP then ‘II’ will still be required listening, and if you have yet to acquaint yourself with this fine band…what are you waiting for?

[For a limited time, this EP can be downloaded FOR FREE from the Sunday Sun website:]


September 2012