Review by Mark Deming
Is Paul Collins truly the King of Power Pop? That’s the kind of statement guaranteed to open a can of worms among record collector types, but Collins certainly has a more honest claim to the title than most folks, given the great records he made in the 1970s and ’80s with the Nerves, the Breakaways, and the Beat (aka the Paul Collins Beat). Collins has cut a handful of fine records since the breakup of the Beat, but King of Power Pop! is the first one in ages that captures the tough, upbeat sound of his most memorable work, and it proves the man hasn’t lost his touch for writing tight, hooky tunes with killer hooks and energetic guitar figures. Collins’ voice is a little rougher than it was in his salad days, but he makes that work to his favor, giving the songs a touch of defiant swagger even when he’s sounding sweet and heartbroken, and when he and his lead guitarist Eric Blakely lock in, this sounds like the perfect follow-up to the Beat’s classic albums for Columbia, bursting with tuneful vigor and rock & roll passion (and arriving a mere quarter-century after the fact). Collins recorded King of Power Pop! in Detroit with producer and engineer Jim Diamond (who also plays bass), and the album features a crew of Motor City notables who give these songs the fire and muscle they need, including Dave Shettler on drums, Wally Palmar (of the Romantics) on harmonica and harmonies, and Nikki Corvette on backing vocals. But the album wouldn’t work if Collins didn’t have a batch of great songs on hand, and “C’Mon Let’s Go,” “Doin’ It for the Ladies,” and “Don’t Blame Your Troubles on Me” are instant power pop classics that all but explode from the speakers, while “Many Roads to Follow” (written in collaboration with his old bandmate Peter Case) shows he hasn’t lost touch with his contemplative side, and “This Is America” builds to a gloriously frantic coda that rocks like nobody’s business. (And the covers of “The Letter” and “You Tore Me Down” demonstrate Collins knows how to bring his own personality into someone else’s great song.) Paul Collins might not be the King of Power Pop, but if there was an elected President of Power Pop, an album this good would certainly sweep him into office; it’s fun, raucous, thoroughly enjoyable rock & roll from one of pop’s greatest unsung heroes.