Thursday, December 6, 2007

The Merrymakers - "Saltwater Drinks" (1998)

In the late 90's, I rediscovered power pop music all over again by stumbling across the record store/label Not Lame, run by the esteemed Bruce Brodeen in Fort Collins, Colorado. It was like unveiling a goldmine of incredible music under the springboards that's been there all the time, except nobody on the radio was playing it!

There was a whole section devoted to Swedish power pop, and hey, what did these guys know that earned them an area all to themselves? Knowing the longtime pop heritage of the Swedes, from The Shocking Blue to ABBA to the production behind all the boy bands right up to today's divas like Kelly Clarkson and Britney Spears, there was something in the water that made them create great pop music.

I took a whirl on a handful of albums by bands I knew nothing about except Brodeen said they were "Extremely Highly Recommended." One of the absolute best was this album Bubblegun by The Merrymakers, and their leadoff single, "Saltwater Drinks." The album was distributed in the US, along with a bonus EP of older material, on the Big Deal label, which I found out was right around the corner from my office!

The Merrymakers had all classic power pop rules of the game down: slavish obsession with early Beatles, no song lasting more than four minutes, lots of jangly guitars and harmonies, super catchy melodies, and lyrical devotion to girls, cars, and the other simple things in life. As an added bonus, some of their songs were produced and accompanied by former Jellyfish drummer Andy Sturmer. And any power pop fan knows that Jellyfish (sadly no more) is one of the most influential power pop bands next to The Raspberries, right?

So you have these two immensely talented Swedes, Anders Hellgren and David Myhr, creating a fantastic record that every power pop fan must get their hands on through eBay or elsewhere (that's an order!). They kick it off with "Saltwater Drinks," which defines the term "exploding out of the speakers." At first, it's just a solo vocal -- "I would like to go away/See the world in just one day/How I wish that we could be-e-e" -- bam! In come the jangly guitars and drums and we're off to the races!

Sailing in a boat for two,
Across the seven seas with you,
Saltwater drinks are all on me...
I believe in you,
I'll believe in my pa-a-ast!
I won't forget my past,
And even if I do,
This moment's gonna last,
And you will guide me through.

The beauty of this song is that in three minutes, these guys take you on a musical roller coaster ride, which isn't a description that comes about very often. The verses move speedily along, then the bridge builds and builds with more background vocals and climbing chords, until it just whooshes with the release of the chorus, tambourine coming in right on time. Even the short instrumental section, which features a whistle solo (!), goes right into second gear with the bridge and its layered vocals, stops a brief second, and dives right into the chorus for a final two times.

You would truly have to have no pulse to be swept up in the perfect power pop of this song.

Where are The Merrymakers now after making such a fantastic album? Sadly, no other album followed this one. Everything in their Wikipedia entry stops in the late 90's, yet their own web site is still alive and well, but with no news. There is a MySpace page, which doesn't have much on it, but it seems there are some new songs which I'm downloading now.

Below, a rather odd but fun promotional video for "Saltwater Drinks."

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