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Shades Apart
Sonic Boom
Republic Universal

There’s something to be said for regularity (not that kind of regularity…although that’s good too.) What I’m talking about is good, solid music with no surprises. Hey, I like the odd, weird, experimental stuff as much as the next guy, and I like to see bands progress, but you’ve got to admire a band that you can count on to provide you with a good solid record every time out. The Smithereens made a career out of it: you always knew what you were gonna get when a new Smithereens record came out. Although the songs were definitely different in melody, you knew what it was gonna sound like, that’s why you bought it. That brings us to the latest record from New Jersey’s Shades Apart. This power trio made my top ten list in 1999 with their Eyewitness album, a record full of hooky pop jewels with just the right amount of crunch. Getting a break early on from the guys in the Descendents, Shades Apart started filling up the speakers with their brand of grit infected pop music that draws as much from new wave pop as it did punk. Now wait just a minute…don’t get your panties in a bundle…this is not another Green Day or Blink 182 styled "pop-punk" record. This is something different…and for all their pop savvy, there isn’t a damn thing on the radio like them.

The best way to make you understand is to break it down for ya. The record busts out with a mid-tempo pop number, "Conspiracy." Their knack for harmony picks up where Eyewitness left off. If you like those good Jam styled "ooh’s" and "whoa-oh’s" you’re in the right place. This sets the stage perfectly for the single, (doubt you’ve ever heard it on the radio, though) "Beat By Beat." This is "classic" Shades: that big beat drumming, a tight guitar riff that doesn’t cover anything up and a sing along chorus. The thing about Mark V’s vocals is that they aren’t baby’s-butt smooth. There’s a bit of gruff, smoked too many cigarettes gravel in there that aids the rough edged guitar rampaging. The things I love about power trios are crystallized in the following "Gravity." The power trio format allows all the instruments to come through loud and clear and this allows more open space in the tunes, providing a subtle tension when done right. It’s that subtle tension that rings throughout the verses of "Gravity." You’re waiting for that guitar to pick back up again on those off beats…makes you wanna shake your head. On the slower "Three Wishes", Kevin Lynch’s bass brings on a bit of that old Police-era Sting (you know, before he went to Hell). The topper on this one is that sorrowful harmony on the chorus. That’s one of my favorite things about this band. Speaking of the Police, "Got Shot Down" brings that sound up a bit: Ed Brown’s funky drumming provides a groundwork for the rest of the guys to lay down reggae-pop verses, but before you dare call them Police copycats, they swerve back into a thick rock groove. There’s even a bit of "gang-land" vocals in the chorus…can you beat that? "Shockwaves" reminds me of another much under-appreciated power-trio from the other side of the pond, China Drum. Never mind--you’ve probably never heard them either, but that’s your loss.

This record would be great on vinyl because it would remind you even more of early Eighties pop that way. The "Side 2" would lead off with "Rebel Teenager From Mars," it’s brooding and slow--and is the only tune on the record that crosses the four minute barrier. A bouncy bass line brings the tempo back up for "Radioactivated." There’s lots of open space in here and it would be very tempting to fill it up with guitar noise, but Mark V is a tasteful player and uses his ax solely to chop at the choruses. I mean, how many guys in a power trio just wanna blast away and take the spotlight all the time? "Behind The Wheel" continues to display the whole band’s talent for restraint. It’s another mid-tempo rocker that builds tension at every opportunity. The muted guitars mingle with a slightly off accent drum and bass pattern, allowing that bullish chorus to have an even more powerful impact. Speaking of tension, you get more of it in "Spell." There are plenty of empty spaces that are punctuated by powerful outbursts of drums and guitar, and they bring back those harmonies during the rave-up choruses. On this one, we get our first real "guitar solo." Sure, there are lead lines on the record, but nothing I would call a "guitar solo". Don’t panic though…it’s short and to the point. "Drive All Night" is a great driving song, but, as the title suggests, it’s better for night driving than for daytime ball-haulin’. There isn’t that high-octane punk bashing, it’s merely a groove that accentuates the cool air blowing in your window…and another (?!) small solo containing a bit of twang makes it more realistic. To close it out, "Superzero" is classic Shades. More "way-oh" harmonies, that slightly reggae influenced groove leading into another powerful chorus. Gotta love the faux crowd chanting thrown into the end. Mission accomplished, boys.

You know, you don’t always have to go about changing your style to make a good record. Some bands need to just keep doing what they do best and not try to change faces each record out, leave that to the Radioheads of the rock world. If you do something well, why do have to make drastic changes? Is this a carbon copy of Eyewitness? No it isn’t. It is not as entirely in your face as the former, but it’s a logical extension of it without losing sight of the "Shades Apart M.O." Will this record take over the world? Probably not. Is it a solid record from beginning to end? Damn straight.

tom topkoff

Track Listing:

  1. Conspiracy
  2. Beat By Beat
  3. Gravity
  4. Three Wishes
  5. Got Shot Down
  6. Shockwaves
  7. Rebel Teenager From Mars
  8. Radioactivated
  9. Behind The Wheel
  10. Spell
  11. Drive All Night
  12. Superzero

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