These days it seems like the drooling masses automatically class every piece of entertainment even slightly shy of Back to the Future levels of fame and marketability as some sort of criminally under-appreciated gem. In an alarming but unsurprising trend, a vast percentage of the things that said folk deem gem-worthy comes originates in the 1990’s – things like the Street Sharks franchise (such a gem), The Stone Roses (British gems), and Brendan Fraser’s Air Heads (Steve Bus-gem-i). However, this reveals a popular misunderstanding of how geology works; gems are sparkling and rare. Unique stones made more valuable by nature of their being surrounded by useless, bland rock. So for every Babes in Toyland there needs to be an encasing layer made of Semisonic, Candlebox, Puddle of Mudd. Not every band can be a gem, despite what people seem to think, and it’s completely possible to be a band that’s accurately rated the first time around.
Case in point: The Posies, who, in the year of our lord 2016, still deal in the bright-eyed, mid-energy power pop inherited by groups like Hot Hot Heat and The Fratellis and given a grandiosity injection by The Killers. The Washington group’s latest record Solid States squeezes their tried and true light rock song structures into the skinny jeans of the new millennium – which means floating between electronic and acoustic drums, keyboard ambiance and clean, reverb-soaked guitar because that is what the indie rock kids seem to think is cool right now. Their 1990 hit “Golden Blunders,” on which they sounded like a waif-like combination of Pearl Jam and Blur, contrasts starkly with the innocuous, melancholy, Postal Service-esque keyboard bleeps to be found in “Rollercoaster Zen.” Regrettably, the accompanying falsetto vocals and bleached clean production push the indietronic track far enough over the edge to sound like a Maroon 5 album cut.
Yes, the grunge fuzz has been substantially trimmed. In place of a Big Muff, The Posies give us the stutter-step snare pattern and glockenspiel melodies of “Titanic,” a track that wades dangerously deep into the icy waters of radio rock with the extra vocal layers piled on top of The Posies’ traditional chorus of “Ooh’s,” along with an acoustic guitar so compressed that it sounds straight off of a retro midi pad. “March Chimes” is glittery and gritless as well, with only the soulful stomp of the drums to connect the song to the realm of the blues. The lyrics of “Squirrel vs. Snake” tugs on the moody, intellectual strands of Elvis Costello, passed down and rewoven by everyone from Andrew Bird to amiable pop punkers like Motion City Soundtrack. In the very moments that The Posies reference Jesus as, “The headliner, we all know, for the holy halftime show,” and dot a pedestrian verse about the president, the moneyman and insurrection with references to Byzantine Emperor Justinian, Solid States graduates from a rock record with synthesizers to an unmistakably synth-heavy record. Closer “Radiance” sounds like a version of Radiohead from an alternate universe in which Greenwood and the boys stuck with their writing style circa Pablo Honey while merely updated their instrumentation each album to match the fickle times.
Which, come to think of it, is kind of what The Posies do. Their lack of discernible creativity never really allowed them to really poke their head out from under the 90’s rock pile. Coming from a band with a hit single named “Flavor of The Month,” Solid States throws a lot of modern trappings at the wall to see which ones stick. In doing so, The Posies attempt nothing Cheap Trick and Big Star (a group with whom Stringfellow has been known to moonlight) had already perfected decades ago.