Friendly, artful pop-rock is a deceptively tough style to pull off. Pittsburgh stalwarts The Clarks manage it nicely, thanks to a happy combination of strong songwriting, chunky riffs, rich harmonies and earnest but unpretentious lead vocals.
The CD is front-loaded with three of its best songs. The opening track is an ode to the open road (The Clarks aren’t reinventing any wheels, so to speak, with their subject matter) while “Anymore” and “Shimmy Low” celebrate cutting loose from bad relationships and personal demons. All three songs have superb radio-friendly hooks. “Wait a Minute” shows they can write a catchy mid-tempo ballad too, even if the words don’t make too much sense.
Most of the rest are in the same vein but weaker, though the band’s knack for melody never abandons them. Even their less nimble numbers please the ear thanks to sweet harmonies and optimally dense production.
“Fast Moving Cars,” a sparkling, James Taylor-esque folk-rocker, varies the formula and shows the band’s versatility. On the other hand, although Scott Blasey’s voice at times sounds a bit like Billie Joe Armstrong’s, “You Know Everything” proves that The Clarks are not at their best trying to punk out like Green Day. “Gypsy Lounge,” a 1960s-style jangle-rocker (think The Zombies or America), is much better. And the CD closes with the Dylan-esque “Train,” an emotional story of going off to war which evinces the band’s deeper side.
If this CD doesn’t break The Clarks nationally, it won’t be the music’s fault. All the goods are here.