Pop Culture Gadabout
Wednesday, March 23, 2005
      ( 3/23/2005 07:47:00 AM ) Bill S.  

"WE HAD OUR PROBLEMS LIKE EVERYONE ELSE" – When Herb Eimerman, the DIY auteur of the ace pop-rock disc & I You, emailed me to ask if I'd be interested in hearing a disc he'd produced by the previously unknown-to-me singer/songwriter Russ Schneider, I'll admit I felt both flattered and mildly wary. I enjoyed Eimerman's highly quiet-&-melodic release, but I had to wonder whether yet another Illinois popster from the Northwest suburbs had it in him to do keep me going for the length of full disc's worth of mid-tempo 60's-inflected tunery.

In the end, Schneider's debut, Friday Night (UnderthedomE), stands up by itself: though the presence of Eimerman on guitar and backing vocals puts a familiar aural stamp on the disc, it's the singer/songwriter's own unique blend of naïve lyricism, Del Shannon angst and honest poppishness that ultimately coalesce. On more than one occasion ("You Don't Know," "Crash Your Party," "Beautiful Girl"), I found myself thinking, speed up the drumming, throw in some frenzied guitar chording and this could be a Ramones track. A suitably savvy group of pop-punkers could have a field day with much of this material.

The disc opens strongly with "Runs to Him," an updating of "Runaway" as sung by an abandoned married man (some nicely serpentine guitarwork takes the place of the Shannon classic's famous musitron solo), and if that high standard isn't maintained through the disc, well, chalk some of that up to the difficulty of keeping things crisp through twenty tracks and some of it up to the fact that Schneider's nasally voice doesn't carry off sustained ballad notes as effectively as it does the brisk rockers. At least one dreamy slow track, "Winter's Fading," sounds like somp'n that a good 60's girl vocalist – Leslie Gore, say – could've made a hit.

That noted, there are plenty of appealing songs on this disc, particularly for lovers of Boomer Era rock stylings with a tinge of 80's era sonic hollowness. The usual suspects get sound-checked – Beatle-ish guitar ring on "When I Fell In Love With You," spare Leiber-&-Stoller Lite Spanish guitar riff on "Only Lover," Grass Rooted folk-rock in "Don't Ask Why," Beach Boys summer sound and so on – but without the excessive derivativeness of many sixties torch-carriers. As a lyricist, Schneider works best covering themes of romantic betrayal: a few attempts at branching into broader commentary ("1969," which is not the Stooges classic) come across unintentionally silly. But anyone willing to quote from "Que Sera Sera" with a straight face isn't overly concerned with sounding foolish.

In one of my favorite songs, "Crash Your Party," Schneider imagines invading some lovely’s house with a group of uninvited friends ("I'll bring my friends along/And you won't like them/No, you won't like them," he sings, apparently unconcerned whether this pisses her off or not). With his matter-of-fact sing-songy delivery, Schneider neither revels in nor excuses what he wants to do, merely sees it at a means of getting the girl alone and away from that distracting party. I admit it: I'm a sucker for a sprightly pop song when it's centered on such a wrong-headed narrator. Helps to put my own screw-ups in perspective. . .
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Pop cultural criticism - plus the occasional egocentric socio/political commentary by Bill Sherman (popculturegadabout AT yahoo.com).

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