Paul Collins: King of Power Pop!
By Stephen Haag 1 November 2010
I think we can all agree that, at the risk of infuriating Tom Scharpling and Jon Wurster’s despotic, psychotic Power Pop Pop-Pop, no one has more right to lay claim to the title of King of Power Pop than Paul Collins: even if his output has slowed in the 21st century, over a 30-year career wit the Nerves, the Breakaways, and Paul Collins’ Beat, Collins has consistently delivered the Rickenbacker jangle and harmonies, as well as songs about girls, “the kids”, and music itself, that power pop aficionados have demanded since the first issue of Bomp!, if not the Who’s “The Kids Are Alright”.
Back stateside after decamping to Spain for 2005’s contemplative Flying High, and teaming up with down ‘n’ dirty garage guru Jim Diamond, King of Power Pop! finds Collins so desirous to make up for lost time that he practically runs out the door, all a-jangle and pleasantly raspy, on the opening blast of “C’mon Let’s Go!”. He tears through the barroom stomp of “Do You Wanna Love Me?” and the self-explanatory “Doin’ It for the Ladies” and “Don’t Blame Your Troubles on Me”, which sounds like a long-lost Nerves track. In fact, the album barrels along for its entire 31-minute runtime, only pausing long enough for Collins to reconnect with his old Nerves-mate Peter Case on the folky “Many Roads to Follow”.
As if further convincing was required, side B cements Collins’s claim to royalty. His urgent cover of the Box Tops’ “The Letter” is a fine tribute to another man fit to wear the power pop crown, Alex Chilton. “Off the Hook” is a fun kiss-off to an ex—“I’m not gonna die if you’re not by my side”—and it sure beats the woe-is-me vibe that permeates too many power pop break-up songs. Meanwhile, the title track combines a brief history of the Nerves, an overview of the dire state of pre-punk ‘70s radio, and shout-outs to the Ramones and the Easybeats… all in 2:27. The facility with which Collins and crew are working is nothing short of amazing. And the rave-up “This Is America” celebrates the best (Chuck Berry) and excoriates the worst (oversize McDonald’s sodas) of the states, and even overcomes an unfortunate lyrical similarity to “We Didn’t Start the Fire” (“Uncle Sam, Mary Ann, Chuck E. Cheese, pretty please”) courtesy of a raucous, minute-long coda that threatens to topple, but just keeps building to greater heights.
To Collins’s credit, King of Power Pop! never feels like it’s going through the motions—and at this stage in his career, Collins, preaching almost exclusively to hardcore power pop fans who (and I’m only half-joking) assess albums with checklists of genre conventions and expectations, could get away with a lazy move and still be lauded. As it is, he more than backs up his album’s boastful title on this most welcome—and deserving—victory lap.