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Please please me

The Leftovers are ready and eager
By SAM PFEIFLE  |  May 13, 2009

leftovers main

NO ORTS HERE Just the inspired originals.

For pure output, not many local bands can top the Leftovers, who next week drop their fourth full-length album, Eager to Please, with Oglio/Crappy Records, since 2005's debut, Stop Drop Rock & Roll (and they had an EP before that). And we won't even take away points because "full-length," for them, doesn't quite reach 40 minutes.

The new record is both comfortingly what you'd expect and their most ambitious work to date. While they continue to revel in sunny pop and '60s licks, they've teamed with throwback-pop producer Linus of Hollywood (go check his resume), and a host of guest pop-ins, to make a record that is downright breathless in its pacing, like jamming 50 Sweet Tarts in your mouth at once. They've taken a formula that was charmingly sweet and pushed it to its limits.

Listening to this album in the headphones straight through is an intense experience, in some ways more rattling than far-heavier music. The songs are so tight in their construction, rifling through classic verses, choruses, and bridges at break-neck speed, that it can feel like the world is speeding up around you, threatening to spin you right off the merry-go-round.

But for the Leftovers, the world is as wholesome as roller skates and first dates, just like all those beach-blanket movies and Grease. In fact, the first single is "Telephone Operator" — as though any of these three kids even has parents who were alive when you asked the operator to connect you to your girl.

The resulting picture is surreal: Frontman Kurt Baker is singing about how his friends, "they got me thinking I should just hang up/Cuz maybe you were calling me, too," when it's hard to even imagine anymore that you couldn't just switch over to the other line. From Adam Woronoff's basic drum kit and its unadorned hits to guitarist Andrew Rice's largely spare guitar breaks, the Leftovers go in for none of the pyrotechnics of many of their pop-punk contemporaries, opting instead for the flavors of Motown, Max's Kansas City, and Brian Wilson's nearest pier.

The danger, of course, when you recreate the past is that you're just creating a false document, aping a time period and music you don't really understand because you didn't really live it; you just watched its movies and read its books and listened to its music. But the Leftovers succeed in music-making as homage, effectively conveying they just wish things weren't so complicated nowadays. While I think Baker could push the boundaries of his lyric-writing more, it's hard to argue with the sentiments he creates: trying to shake a girlfriend (and recalling the Hold Steady's "she was a really good dancer, but she wasn't all that great of a girlfriend"), wishing things were as good as they used to be, and, most reliably heartbreaking of all, unrequited love.

I'm glad they gave the anthemic "Dance with Me" another shot, too. One of the great songs off 2007's On the Move, here the vocals aren't as guttural in the chorus, Baker is a little more earnest, and it's just much cleaner and more immediate, with less of a garage feel. It's the purest of fun pop rock.

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Related: Short-form Portland, Portland Music News: May 8, 2009, Music Seen: Ocean and Pontiak, More more >
  Topics: CD Reviews , Brian Wilson, Brett Anderson, The Hold Steady,  More more >
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