Smile Politely

King of Power Pop: How Paul Collins earned the title

Being in charge of checking in new rock at a radio station, it’s easy to lose my enthusiasm for new releases. CDs start to sound the same.

But Paul Collins’s King of Power Pop shattered all that. I was zapped by its fresh, fun, cool, tingly, and exciting voltage. I put it on and then played it again. I had to set my lemonade down on the new Phillip Selway CD to help Paul Collins with an air guitar solo.

Paul Collins’s name was distantly familiar to me, and I was impressed to uncover the extent of his career.

For the past three-plus decades Paul Collins has been a quiet diamond mine turning out gems. After studying at the eminently credible Julliard music school, in 1974 Paul Collins formed the Nerves, a blistering power-proto-punk-pop band who had a song lifted by Blondie. In 1977, the Nerves broke down and Collins formed the Beat. This band drummed through the 1980s, but in 1992 Paul Collins lost the Beat and began releasing albums under his own name. Along the way he has amassed a small army of fans and collaborators, especially in Spain, his adopted home.

The songs on King of Power Pop are rippingly exciting, punky and professional, youthful and accomplished. This disc has wings. Many of its best moments are disarmingly simple, with hooks and choruses falling together with a sense of inevitability. His songs invoke Buddy Holly, Beatles-For-Sale-era Beatles, Roy Orbison, Billy Joel, and many other credible ghosts. Yeah I know it’s a a disservice to describe a musician in terms of other musicians, but I’m comparing Paul Collins to the best pop-song-writers of all time. And Billy Joel! This is classic car radio songwriting. And it’s available on swirly green vinyl for your home.

The title track is especially heart-breaking-and-warming, and sums up the pain of making art in America through the cruel paradox of power pop obscurity: how such pleasing, radio-friendly, succulent single-sized songs can be overlooked by those who control commercial radio.

Paul Collins, thanks for all you have done. Always remember that your music matters. Your energy infuses and brightens the world even if it can’t be measured in the GNP or column-inches in the New York Times Arts section.

Last time I listened to this record, I put it on in my car and sang along to every song. At the end of the album, I realized I was still in my driveway. It’s like that.

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