Check out the duo above, they are the primary architects of long-standing Seattle band The Posies. They look like rejects from The Cure – the leather coats, the button-up long sleeve shirts, the hair. A picture is worth a thousand words (or maybe a thousand songs?), so you can be forgiven if, after looking at the above image (which graced the back cover of their debut album, Failure), you assumed the grooves inside were some goth-gloomcave-type sound. However, you would be wrong. The Posies might look like rejects from a Cure tribute band, but their music hews much closer to classic 70’s power-pop groups like The Raspberries, Cheap Trick, Neil Young, and of course, Big Star, a band they would at various times be members of.
Retro power-pop was a big sound at the turn of the 90’s, with acts like Matthew Sweet, Lloyd Cole, Material Issue, and Weezer all playing a 70’s-homage type of music. The Posies released Failure on a local indie, Popllama, and the songs sound like polished demos. They’re not bad, but they’re lacking something. The Posies signed to Geffen records in 1989, and their debut for that label, Dear 23, came out in 1991, with Geffen putting a decent amount of promotion behind the album. But, Geffen had also signed another local band, of a different stripe of 70’s sound, that ended up eclipsing what The Posies might have been capable of under different circumstance. I speak of Nirvana, a band I’m sure you’re all familiar with. I was already quite familiar with Nirvana by the time “Smells Like Teen Spirit” jump-started alternative nation, and perhaps on another post I’ll speak more about Nirvana. For now though, let’s stick with The Posies.
While the power-pop vibe was a breath of fresh air after the late-80’s sterile, machine-like lock-step and homogenous lifelessness, it was Nirvana’s recycled punk/Sabbath grooves that really took off in popularity. And while a rising tide lifts all ships, briefly helping any Seattle band shift units, each ship rises a different amount. Dear 23 did ok for The Posies, and their follow-up Frosting on the Beater, from 1993, had perhaps their best-known track “Dream All Day”. But while The Posies were probably looking around at what their career might have been if not for…, they did help resurrect the aforementioned Big Star, appearing live with Alex Chilton and Jody Stephens (from the original lineup), to bring 3 critically-lauded Big Star albums from the early 70’s to a new audience. While it’s no doubt that without Big Star there probably would have been no Posies, it’s nice that they were able to play with their idols and maintain a side-career (as sidemen) while they were putting out original material that was largely ignored for the more aggressive and angsty grunge music of the time.
I personally prefer The Posies, Matthew Sweet, and the other power-pop adherents of the 90’s to the majority of the grunge acts from the era, despite my living in Seattle at the time, and also being in various bands also at the same time. I mean, I never say “hey, I really feel like listening to some Nirvana”, but I do find myself saying “hey, some Posies might be ok right now.” It’s a different vibe, something that I think holds up a bit better than grunge does. This is, of course, my opinion. Your mileage may vary in relation to mine.
Oh yeah, right. I found an original Popllama blue vinyl copy of Failure yesterday at one of my local shops. I grabbed it right away, and I’ve listened to it a couple times now. Good stuff…a bit raw and unpolished, but definitely pointing in the direction their sound would ultimately take (despite them looking like Robert Smith acolytes). The Posies are still making original music, and it’s still good. They’re also running a PledgeMusic campaign to reissue their classic Geffen albums from the 90’s, if that’s your thing, support them. Go forth and listen!