Saturday, January 30, 2010

David Mead -- "Sweet Sunshine"/"Telephone" (1999)

After reading a rave review online on some power pop site, I bought David Mead's RCA Records debut The Luxury of Time without having heard a note of it in advance. Remember those compulsive times?

I'm not quite sure I'd classify Mead as "power pop," although I'm sure there are those who could stretch him under that umbrella.

Mead is a classic pop/rock singer-songwriter craftsman with an amazing voice, how's that?

So you know there's no way this guy is going to last on a major label the way that music is marketed and produced, too. Unless he was going to sell at least a couple of hundred thousand albums, RCA would set him free.

Too bad, because this record is like a lost gem of great music, the kind of individual statement that very few songwriters can make on a major label. Lyrically, Mead is akin to Paul Simon, concocting personal pictures about the inability to move on in life ("Landlocked"), the collapse of 60's idealism ("Robert Bradley's Postcard"), and taking yourself too seriously ("World of A King"). Musically, the influences are definitely Simon & Garfunkel, The Beatles and The Smiths.

What's remarkable about the first album is the production by Peter Collins, an Englishman who did the same duties for Canadian power trio Rush, Queenryche, Bon Jovi, Alice Cooper, Musical Youth ("Pass The Dutchie!"), Nik Kershaw and Tracey Ullman ("They Don't Know"). You wouldn't exactly think Collins and Mead would be a match, but they click in an unexpected way. Instead of making Mead's sonic palette all singer/songwriter-y with sparse arrangements, Collins lays it on thick with electric and acoustic guitars, reverbs, and delays in a full rock production.

You can just tell that the production is English and not American. I think an American producer would have used Bridge Over Troubled Water or an early Simon album as a reference. Collins went the route of 80's English rock, as the drums are big, the guitars are layered, delayed and EQ'd perfectly, and it all crunches when it has to with a distinct analog warmth.

My two favorite songs on The Luxury of Time are "Sweet Sunshine" and "Telephone." Besides being absurdly hook-happy, they are marvels of a musical artist hitting on all cylinders. Mead's vocals naturally swoop, even within verses and choruses. "Sweet Sunshine" is like walking down the street on the sunniest day of the year and you can feel this guy's head soaring. The opening of "Telephone" is right out of the manic offbeat drum pattern of The Beatles' "Tomorrow Never Knows" and then straightens out to 4/4 for the choruses.

Mead's second RCA album, Mine and Yours, was produced by Fountain of Wayne's Adam Schlesinger, and with its lack of blockbuster sales, was the ticket out the door. What followed were much more intimate albums on indie labels, each one a remarkable showcase for his talents, and two of them produced by everybody's favorite Nashville-based power pop producer, Brad Jones (see Josh Rouse's "Winter In The Hamptons").

Below are some video treats. First, since RCA didn't spring for the videos themselves, I made one for both "Sweet Sunshine" and "Telephone" so you can hear these great songs with Collins' deep production. Then Mead performing each of these songs solo on acoustic guitar from a gig in Philadelphia, and finally, from Chicago in fall 2009, he does Paul Simon's "Only Living Boy in New York" (a cover which he did on the soundtrack to the TV show "Everwood," released in 2002).



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