Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Are you old enough to yearn for the bygone days when flipping on the AM radio meant hearing the Raspberries blasting out? Or thinking that Paul McCartney should never have disbanded Wings? Or wishing that Badfinger was still cranking out those terrific Beatle-esque harmonies and melodic pop gems? How ‘bout never forgiving Todd Rundgren for abandoning his once-seemingly bottomless pit of hooks? Creamer has your back.
The band, who shares the somewhat unusual last name of its singer/songwriter/auteur Phillip Creamer, is the result of the frontman dissolving his Texas-based Dovetail unit of a decade, moving to Nashville and starting fresh. He brings brother Daniel whose keyboards are a featured element of Creamer. But more importantly, it’s the input of Pat Sansone (Wilco) and Josh Shapera (The Autumn Defense) as producers for this dozen track debut, nearly two years in the making, that captures the pure pop elements so essential to this project’s sound. From the Beach Boys-styled harmonies of “Record Machine,” a love song to all things vinyl (“It grooves anytime I’m in the mood/ I love I love my record machine”), to the vaguely spiritual John Lennon-influenced sweeping “Love Yourself” (“Love yourself and give a better lover to the world”), Creamer taps a vibrant, highly melodic strain that shouts ’70s without sounding overly retro. His sweet yet powerful voice reflects elements of Roy Orbison and Harry Nilsson, with a heavy dose of Eric Carmen.
Like much timeless pop, Creamer is best when he’s singing about uncomplicated topics such as how much he loves music, in particular rock and roll on “Magic,” leading a clean, narcotic free life in the ELO-styled “Drugs No More” (because his girlfriend gets him “high as the sun”) and the joys of being young and free on the shimmering “Ride Or Die,” the latter boasting Queen-inflected, classically tinted piano. Add some Emmitt Rhodes on the glistening bittersweet ballad “Bad As You” (about a disintegrating relationship) for a trip back to a better time when melody and real instruments created immortal radio gems seemingly weekly.
If every song was as terrific as those, this would be an instant contemporary classic. But some seem forced, getting tangled with obtuse lyrics in “Everything Must Go,” like “What’s some humdrum human got to do with an old black rhino” and the closing “White Dove” that reads “Maybe the space between my eyelids/ buried in me, so moths can’t ruin the treasure.” These and a handful of others don’t have the same musical snap that the bulk of this impressive debut displays.
Still, there’s plenty left to enjoy and sing along with after the first spin. As first albums go, even by experienced artists, Creamer’s shimmering pop is impressive, even if there are few radio stations left that will support it.