ALBUM: BACKWARDS COMPATIBLE
BAND: CHRIS CHURCH
reviewed by NADJA DEE
Cover Painting by Brian Beaver
Musicians: Chris Church (Guitars, Bass, Synth and vocals)
Nick Bertling (Drums)
Scott Cornette (Guitar)
Doug David (Violin)
Lori Franklin (Percussion, Piano)
John Hawkins (Drums)
Jon Leeds (Drums)
Bill Lloyd (Bass, Guitar)
Matt Lutton (Guitar)
Samantha Morgan (Backing vocals)
Lindsay Murray (Backing vocals)
Charles Shoemake (Guitar)
Reed Shoemake ("Rock and Roll")
Producers: Lori Chanklin
Co-Produced & Engineer: Scott Cornette
I was all ready to purchase the new album by North Carolina’s Chris Church (Released Friday 3/20/2020) when I left my bunker, I call HOME*, and to my surprise found a copy of it in my mailbox.
* Also a great album by Lannie Flowers!
Sure, people are stocking up on water, canned foods and for some paranoid reason, TOILET PAPER right now, but are they also stocking up on supplies to let us blow off steam? In the words of Kurt Cobain, "Entertain us!" because here we are!
That's the thing that this COVID-19 virus has made everyone realize, sure we need the basic supplies to survive but everyone is turning to artists to keep themselves from cabin fever. (Myself included)
So, what better time to check out the high power, pumped up 2nd album from Chris Church?
I was a big fan of his first solo release, 2017's LIMITATIONS OF SOURCE TAPE (L.O.S.T.). In fact, I liked it so much that after a few listens, I bought two copies, one to keep, one to give to a friend in another great Power Pop band. Only problem was that I forgot what it was about L.O.S.T. that made me want to give a copy to my musician friend. Still, I gave him the album and he loved it.
I think the songs on L.O.S.T. reminded me of my friend's band, at least in vibe: strong, fast paced, catchy power pop. BACKWARDS COMPATIBLE is no exception but it feels like Chris Church found Nigel Tufnel's power button. All these songs go up to 11.
It's not like L.O.S.T. was coy; songs like Ostinato and Understudy Blues turn up the volume to full capacity. But, BACKWARDS COMPATIBLE never lets up, until maybe track 10 Coulda Fooled Me. But, even Coulda Fooled Me doesn't exactly take the foot off the gas pedal, it's more like the album pressed the cruise control button. BACKWARDS COMPATIBLE is still coasting rapidly down the sonic highway.
With Backwards Compatible, Chris Church has returned a bit to his hard rock sound with his band Däng, but left the progressive aside. He cranks it up and out on this new album.
Just like L.O.S.T., the album starts off with Someday's Coming Fast, the most radio friendly, catchy and accessable tune. But, that's if Power Pop ever becomes "radio popular" again. (I'm not holding my breath). On this song, we start off by unlocking the door and starting the machine. It literally sounds like it and that's using the term "literally" in the proper sense. Much like L.O.S.T.'s Fall Into Me, it's up for favorite song and it's position as track #1 proves they felt the same way.
Track 3, Begin Again, features fellow Spyderpop Records musician Bill Lloyd performing bass and guitar solo beautifully of course. Spyderpop is NOT short on talent folks.
Track 4 No Letting Go could be a lost AC/DC or Def Leppard song. If you needed further proof, I played it for my husband, a HUGE fan of melodic heavy metal and he immediately asked if I could put it on his ipod (Yes, we still use ipods!).
The same could be said about Track 6, You Are The Thunder. On Chris Church's Facebook page, he describes the music on BACKWARDS COMPATIBLE as that brief period when post-punk ended and pre-hair-metal started. Somewhere in the early to mid 80's when power pop songwriting met melodic hard rock. I can't think of a better way to describe this music.
I can't really pick a favorite track on this album, just when I think I like one track more than another, the next track comes on and I think, "Oh, that's my favorite track." I feel like the Vera Miles character from the "Revenge" episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, where the wife gets assaulted by a man, so the husband drives around until they find him, "That's the one!" she says so he jumps out and kills the man. Then when the husband is back in the car, driving, she sees another man and screams "That's the one!" I felt like that with every song on this album once their powerful chords "attacked" my ears. "That's my favorite song!" (Next song starts) "That's my favorite song!"
However, if I had to pick a favorite track, at the moment, it's Track #10 Could've Fooled Me. It's one of the less hard rock, or as Chris Church has described it "Heavy Melody" a play on Heavy Metal. It's also the most Power Pop song in my opinion. Catchy, driving and fun.
The final track, Pop Dreams, makes me think that Chris could follow in the footsteps of Jon Brion, Michael Penn or Danny Elfman and take the journey into film scoring if he wanted to. Complete with radio/TV bits and sound landscapes, it's a perfect way to end the Backwards Compatible journey.
What I like best about a Chris Church album is his voice.
Chris Church has the perfect Power Pop voice
It's like taking the vocals of Fountain's of Wayne, Chris Collinwood but making them less nasally. Or taking the powerful vocal chords of AC/DC's Bon Scott and removing the raspiness. Chris Church's vocals are one of my favorite aspects of his songs. After chatting with Chris, he told me he gets compared to Matthew Sweet and Marshall Crenshaw. I certainly heard the Matthew Sweet comparison. Chris Church brings in a lot of talented musicians, backing vocals but I'm glad he always keeps singing the lead vocals.
Producer, Lori Chanklin** (Also Chris Church's wife) has done a fantastic job producing this album and it's not always easy working with your spouse. With help from Co-Producer and engineer Scott Cornette.
** credited on the album as Lori Franklin
BACKWARDS COMPATIBLE is a powerful album, turning up the Pop back to mid 1980 but turning the Power up to 11. The only other thing I'll say about this album is that there isn't a track that stands out more than the other. They all fit together very well, there isn't one song that's "The hit," mostly because they're all hits. Powerful hits.
I'd be surprised if BACKWARDS COMPATIBLE didn't make everyone's TOP 10 list when 2020: The Year of The Virus, finally ends. Just have to remember these early year releases when and "if" December 2020 finally gets here. But if you forget, this album is powerful enough to let out a backwards scream (A Maercs?) from your CD/LP shelf! Pick up a copy today.
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DISCLAIMER: HOP ON POWER POP doesn't give stars, a grade or any sort of quantifiable rating. What HOP ON POWER POP does is let you know what H.O.P.P. thought of the music by the band at this particular time. If an album isn't to our liking or fitting into the Power Pop genre enough, we simply won't review it.
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