Of all the things that perplex me about the current state of music, maybe the most difficult to fathom is how power-pop, a genre that is about nothing but making catchy music for you to sing along to, became an underground genre. These purveyors of sunny, feel-good music have become vampires to the mainstream, surviving in the shadows that thrive on message boards in the deep recesses of the internet. There was a time when power-pop was huge, as it should have been, but somewhere along the way music fans have apparently decided they don't want their music to be enjoyable. Go figure.
Edward O'Connell first came to my attention with the release of his first album, “Our Little Secret”. Though I'm not plugged-in to that community, word got to me about the album, and how O'Connell was bringing back a sound uncannily similar to the glory days of Elvis Costello. As a huge fan of the latter artist, I listened to and enjoyed the record. Things being the way they are, so much has happened between then and now that I had almost forgotten about him, when word came along that he had a new album. Once again intrigued, I dove in, and this time I think the results might be a little different.
“Vanishing Act” doesn't deviate from the formula established on the previous album, which is a good thing, because power-pop doesn't need to reinvent the wheel. These are songs that live and die by feeling like old friends, which is a talent O'Connnell displays in spades. From the very first listen, this album feels like something that's been sitting on your shelf for years.
“My Dumb Luck” opens the album with a short blast of everything that makes power-pop great, with gentle slide guitar coloring the song, beautiful harmonies, and a hook that won't let go. In less than three minutes, you've heard everything you need to know that “Vanishing Act” is going to be one of those lazy summer day albums that can replay endlessly. “Lonely Crowd” feels like a lost outtake from Bruce Springsteen's late career miracle, “Magic”, while “Every Precious Day” boasts one of those melodies that moves in such a way that you swear it had to flow from Elvis Costello's pen. They're the types of songs that pull in influences you can recognize, but still maintain an identity that lets them stand as their own songs.
“Same Old Faces” balances a muscular instrumental to self-deprecating lyrics that talk about the how narrator was told he would “make a very fine clown, with a tent the size of this town,” and how his “falls would bring the big top down.” It's one of those songs that feels like it can be grafted on to anyone's life and resonate.
There are a few times, like in “I'm The Man” where O'Connell's voice is strikingly similar to Elvis Costello, to the point where it's almost hard not to compare “Vanishing Act” to classic albums like “Armed Forces” and “This Year's Model”. That might sound like a death sentence, but “Vanishing Act” holds up remarkably well. I don't know if it will age as well as those albums, but it is every bit as enjoyable while it plays.
Not to take anything away from “Our Little Secret”, which was a good record, but “Vanishing Act” is a sharper set of songs, the kind of music that you'll find filling your subconscious when you least expect it. Listening to the album, the songs are pleasant and charming, but only after the album is done do you realize how strong the compositions are. Anyone can write a song that puts on enough makeup to catch your attention, but not many can write songs sturdy enough to stand up to the torrential waves of records that crash against your mind. “Vanishing Act” is one of those records. It's a slow-burning record that encapsulates everything pop music is supposed to be. I know from experience how hard this kind of music is to write, and I'd be proud to say “Vanishing Act” was my own.