About three months ago, I touted the release of this disc from one of power pop's leading lights, but realized I never gave it a proper review. It's an oversight that needs to be corrected because it's one of 2009's better releases. While Michael Carpenter discs have always been melodic delights, and he's always been a strong lyricist, here he takes his game up a notch with songs that have both melody and meaning.
Therefore, it's fitting that the opener here is "Can't Go Back", a clear-eyed look at both a relationship and one's life to date complete with Carpenter's patented pop goodness and Beach Boy/Beatles-styled backing vocals. The title track follows, with the title itself and Carpenter's lyrics and vocals getting as close to Dylanesque as he's ever attempted but without sacrificing his sound. Carpenter then offers up his solo take on "Workin' for a Livin", a track he first released with the Cuban Heels on one of their 2008 EPs. The song sounds like a country classic that's been around for years, tackling the familiar theme of (un)employment. "I'm Not Done With You" is a gentle midtempo number that finds Carpenter at his tuneful best and features a lovely guitar solo.
Unlike many other artists in the genre, Carpenter is plugged into the power pop scene (see his SOOP #2, a cover album of contemporary power poppers like The Shazam, David Grahame and the Myracle Brah), and he pays Queen, Jellyfish and all of their power pop acolytes homage on "The King of the Scene", a tune that deserves to be the first single off the album if such a thing really existed these days. There's plenty else to dig here as well, from the lilting "Don't Let Me Down Again", the pure power pop harmonies of the "Middle of Nowhere" (which with its introspective lyrics and classic Carpenter sound, could serve as the soundtrack of his life), the textbook power pop of "I Want Everything" and the languid but affirming "Falling Down".
As anyone who follows my Twitter feed knows, I'm a big baseball fan. And the analogy that can't help but come to mind for Michael Carpenter is Albert Pujols. Both are so good and so consistent at what they do, we tend to take them for granted. If this were a debut album by a heretofore unknown artist, I'd probably give it a siren and be touting it from here and every other bit of social media I could get my hands on. Instead, I kind of left it on the back burner of this site, perhaps subconsciously thinking that everyone who reads this blog already has this disc or has otherwise heard it. But then I stopped to listen to it again, and I realized that it doesn't matter if he's put out about a half-dozen excellent records before. Each one is its own discovery, and it's not a stretch to say that this is his best yet.
Kool Kat | Not Lame | MySpace | iTunes