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POSIES POWER : With Its Sweet Melodies, Textured Harmonies and Definitive Guitar-Heavy Sound, This Seattle Quartet Knows How to Keep It Catchy

August 12, 1993|JIM WASHBURN | Jim Washburn is a free-lance writer who contributes regularly to The Times Orange County Edition.

Perhaps the first person to coin the words power pop was Pete Townshend, who in a 1967 interview used the term, quite aptly, to describe his group the Who.

Though it has since been watered down to meaninglessness--having been applied to bands such as the Knack and far worse--"power pop" as Townshend has lived it through his music meant using individuality and intellect to harness the viscera of our pop culture into a force that might reach people.

Since that heady time, power chords and hook-heavy melodies have been so cynically appropriated by the musical commodities brokers that clutter our airwaves that one can sometimes forget what truly expressive tools they can be.

Which brings us around to the Posies. The Seattle quartet, led by writer/singer/guitarists Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow, is almost too good to be true. Auer and Stringfellow write the sort of hooks that plunge right down into your dreams, with some of the strongest sweet melodies and textured harmonies since the Hollies' mid-'60s "Evolution" heyday.

The decidedly guitar-heavy sound has a definition and edge lacking from many of their grungier townsfolk, and Auer's solos splutter and explode like Neil Young with Ovaltine up his nose. And how often do you notice the drumming on a record anymore? The Posies' Mike Musburger sparks a song with the sort of animal intelligence that Keith Moon once brought to the skins. The bass playing ain't bad, either.

The band initially was just Stringfellow and Auer, who began playing together in their early teens a decade ago. Their self-released 1988 $50 homemade cassette album "Failure" got them signed to Geffen Records, which necessitated their enlisting more members.

1990's "Dear 23" was helmed by XTC producer John Leckie, who emphasized the lighter pop side of the band (Ringo even covered their "Golden Blunders"). Near masterpiece that the album was, it bore little relation to the power of the band's live performance, which at one 1991 hometown show with Crowded House reached such a pitch that band members had to hurl buckets of water into the crowd to cool it off.

Produced by noise-master Don Fleming (Screaming Trees), the current Posies album, "Frosting on the Beater," catches that heat. There may be better albums released this year, but I might not stop playing this one long enough to ever get to them.

"The flavor of the month is busy melting in your mouth/Getting easier to swallow and harder to spit out" the group sings on "Flavor of the Month," making comment on our mass-consumption culture while simultaneously subverting its elements.

Like Marshall Crenshaw's remarkable 1991 album, "Life's Too Short," Auer and Stringfellow rarely let their songs sit long. Just as a melodic line works its way in, they jump to another, even catchier one, as on the album's "Solar Sister."

Along with Neil Young and the grunged-up Hollies sound, comparisons can be drawn between the Posies and several other sources, including even a touch of Robin Trower on "Coming Right Along." Maybe the best comparison is with the early Cheap Trick. The Posies don't sound much of anything like them, but they have in common a willingness to reclaim the basic elements of rock and to drive them into the future.

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