Mission: Immersion 10.0 – Wheels In Motion by Any Trouble

Stiff 1981

I truly love Power Pop with all my heart, thanks to early weanings on Big Star, The Posies, The Beatles and things of that nature. There’s a downside to it, though – more than almost any other genre of music, it can seem very contrived when not done right. This is because generally, the people who make Power Pop are extremely gung ho about it, and are dedicated to keeping it alive. This is a good thing, but dedication is not the same as inspiration, and if you’re too dedicated and not inspired enough, the idea pool gets pretty shallow.

Though I like Any Trouble quite a bit, they seem to suffer from this problem. A product of the highly influential late-seventies London indie label Stiff Records, the band was marketed as a punk/new wave band, but their music is actually closer to pub rock. In the first couple listens through their second album Wheels In Motion, it’s hard to not compare lead singer/songwriter Clive Gregson to Elvis Costello. Granted, this comparison has probably been made hundreds of times in the past (if Any Trouble had been more popular, it would have been thousands), and big fans of the band quibble about it being an unfair one. It’s not. If anything, it’s just glaringly obvious and Any Trouble lovers are sick of hearing about it. Gregson’s songwriting is similar to Costello’s as well, albeit leaning more towards the early-to-mid eighties Costello sound.

Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, Any Trouble fans, let me say this – I really like Wheels In Motion. All previous observations aside, about halfway through the second listen, I realized despite the over-production and Gregson’s at-times-cringeworthy grandiosity, it’s a record full of solid tunes. Opener “Trouble With Love” immediately transports the listener back to the time of those early DIY Power Pop singles, a time when it was the norm to cram as many hot hooks and melodies into one song as possible. These days, with shuffle-footed, meandering Indie Rock taking over, people hear stuff like Any Trouble and their first reaction is “These guys are trying too hard.” I even started thinking that for a second, because I’ll admit it, I love Deerhunter and Kurt Vile and all that really subtle, mumbly stuff. But when I think about it, maybe it’s the other way around – maybe songwriters these days aren’t trying hard enough, and this overwhelming sense of laziness has permeated the human race so deeply that we are all starting to actually appreciate it. Listening to Wheels In Motion makes me wish music could be more like it today, even if Gregson and Co. take the idea of constant, pummelling hooks and melodies a bit too far at times.

I grow more appreciative of the record with each successive track – the second song, “Open Fire”, is a full-blown Power Pop anthem, with enough crowd sing-along opportunities to fill a football stadium. “To Be A King” is cheesey yet charming, one of those tracks that takes a couple listens to penetrate the dated production and arrangement. Once that is done, however, underneath lies a melody that has the potential to get lodged deep in the brain for days. One of the album’s best songs is “As Lovers Do”, an irresistible ode to failed relationships that uniformally presents the band at their full potential while underlining one of their major themes. “It’s true, we don’t act as lovers do,” Gregson sings. It’s pretty heartbreaking, but it’s also sonic candy – a combination that usually proves awesome. ***1/2

Listening Again? Definitely

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