Every devotee of a particular musical era has bands or artists who they feel haven’t been sufficiently recognized. One of these, for me, has long been Translator. A San Francisco guitar-based unit from the New Wave Era, the group’s primarily known for one (admittedly great) jangle-some single, "Everywhere That I'm Not," though they had plenty of other tracks which made optimal use of their echoey folk-rock sound (personal faves: the anti-arms race shouter, "Sleeping Snakes," and childhood memory song, "Necessary Spinning").
Despite my fondness for the band's 415/Columbia album releases, though, I hadn't really followed any of the members' careers post-Translator until now – with the release of Translator frontman Steve Barton's third album.
Credited to "Steve Barton and the Oblivion Click," Flicker of Time (Sleepless Records), Barton's album doesn't have the same level of harmonic bombast that helped propel many of Translator's best tracks. Its format – lead singer/songwriter and rockin' back-up band – is a spot more modest. But Barton's gift for crafting catchy guitar pop-rock thankfully remains intact.
The disc opens on a rousing note with "Cartoon Safe," a subterranean homesick rocker that makes sharp use of Robbie Rist's (part-time cartoon voiceman and onetime child actor) insistent drumwork (also on fine display in the equally hard-rockin' "Goodbye Oblivion"). Other pop-rock hot spots: the contemplative "Beverly Park," a lament for a demolished amusement park, beautifully bolstered by Magical Mystery Tour influenced harmonies; "Oblivion," which wouldn't sound out of place in a Posies set; the riff-driven "Winter Light;" the bluesy "Thrill," with its strong bass lines (courtesy of Derrick Anderson) and one-step-from-balled-up guitar solos (from both Barton and Casey Dolan); and the bash-pop nugget, "You Make Me Smile As Big As I Can."
Barton and the Click-ers, having reportedly lived with much of this material for almost two years, display a unity of purpose reminiscent of Costello and the Attractions or Parker and the Rumour back when they were all breathing the same air.
Per the title, a lot of the songs seem overly concerned with the way that time keeps on slippinslippinslippin-the-the-future, but Barton produces some sweetly eccentric love songs, too. "Sometimes I live too much in my head," the singer admits in "Great Expectations," just before drifting off into a bluesy guitar duet with Dolan.
If a few tracks contain some lyrical stumbles (e.g., "Under A Broken Sky," a piano moaner that's as obvious as you'd expect it to be), in most cases, Barton's incessant tunefulness and his band's spunkiness keep things moving.
In fact, to demonstrate how enjoyable Flicker of Time proves to be as a whole: when I read in the promo materials that Barton's old band was also reuniting to put out some new music, the first thought to come into my head was, "Gee, I hope that doesn't mean Barton'll be abandoning these guys!" I mean, I wanna hear "Everywhere That I’m Not" being performed in concert as much as the next fan – except on those days when I'd just as soon hear "Cartoon Safe" (fun metaphor, Steve!) instead. Some days it ain't such a big deal that Beverly Park is gone – not when our present-day amusements can be just as sparkly.