Party Like it's 1974Mark Mallman - Between the Devil and Middle C
3 stars (out of 5 stars)
Reviewed: Nov. 9, 2006
Review by Brad WalsethWhat if Reg Dwight wasn't born in Middlesex, but rather in Rockford Illinois and grew up with the boys in Cheap Trick, who decided that baseball cap wearing goof on guitar was holding them back, and they instead wanted to make piano-driven power pop? What if there was a modern musician who decided that the best rock and roll was made in 1974 and he was just going to party like it's 1974 forever? What if there was a Mark Mallman? Oh right, there is one, and thank you very much he is alive and kicking on the cleverly titled Between the Devil and Middle C. Mallman oozes charm and personality and his songs are exhibits of the clean clear power pop that existed before Radiohead and others discovered samplers.
Lyically strong ("All is quiet on the Midwestern front, the city slips a mickey to the midnight sun") the singer/keyboardist's songs tell stories - often detailing life at the bottom of the barrel - such as "Substances" ("Now I'm looking for substance, but all I found were substances"), "Pandora's Bottle," "Tell it to the Judge," "My, My I got so High," and the waltzing "After the Hangover." The well-written songs are a throwback to the era of songs with intelligible lyrics and unburdened production. Catchy sing-along songs such as "Tell Me How a Man Gets Close To You," "Turn on of the Century," and "Persuasion" would have fit in on the radio next to Thin Lizzy, Billy Joel, Sir Elton, and Cheap Trick; while the clean lines are somewhat startling, and stand out as an anomaly in today's thick stew of overproduction and excessive layering.
There are guitars present (electric on "Death Wish," "Knockout on 22nd St." "16 Animals," acoustic on "Boots"), but these are generally keyboard-written songs - another rarity in the dropped-D alt universe. Extremely listenable vocals and a palpable sense of fun (despite the view from the gutter) runs through the album. Although the stories related are harrowing, this isn't your typical A.A. member gone straight either, as Mallman's clarity is tongue-in-cheek and neither boring or preachy. No one would promote these songs as rocket science, but they aren't meant to be. Just solid songwriting and good gritty clean fun and that's good enough to party (or not) to.
Mark Mallman - originally from Waukesha not Rockford - appears Saturday Nov. 11th at Mad Planet in Milwaukee where he is guaranteed to hump his keyboard. .
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