The Romeo Flynns appear to have a Beatles dichotomy, even perhaps a bit of a Fab Four identity crisis, going on. The Southfield-based, power-pop trio is positively early Beatlesque in both their fashion sense and overall sound; in other words, their music owes a lot to the mid-'60s British Invasion. But singer-guitarist-chief songwriter Dorian Lawrence Lee often aims more for a latter-day Beatlesque approach in that this is the second Romeo Flynns disc in a row to be a "concept album" of sorts.
The band's debut CD, 2008's Pictures of You, was all about the end of a love affair. Masque of Anarchy — the title comes from a Percy Shelley poem — seems to draw a correlation between the collapse of the world economy and the band's deportation from England last year due to a work visa problem — but the concept kinda collapses from the get-go. The Flynns are best when they just concentrate on bringing the pop — which they do plenty here — and forget about the "concept" altogether. And whereas Pictures of You may have been more ambitious than it ultimately was successful, this one succeeds more than it fails.
One of the prime building blocks of the best power pop has always been that it's evocative, totally reminiscent of something you've once heard ... even if you're hearing a particular song for very first time. And that litmus test is true of no fewer than six songs on this sophomore effort. The title tune (which follows an intro faux British newscast about the economy, thereby clueing us into the "concept" thang) has a terrific melodic hook that's reminiscent of ... well, this writer has been trying to place it for weeks now, almost to the point of insanity, with little success (although the chorus does rip from the Easybeats' "Friday on My Mind"). Other standouts include the riff-driven "Dance the White Line," "Not Your Style" (which could be a Dwight Twilley outtake, right down to its sound-alike vocals), the anthemic "I Got My Eyes on You," and the chugging "Poor Man's Paradise" (featuring the line "She wore her hair like Marianne Faithfull ... in 1965," which may date Lee a bit but is still a great line, even if the Smithereens did do something similar with Jeannie Shrimpton in song a decade and a half ago).
Best of all is the gorgeous, melancholic rock ballad, "Falling Down" ("You can't stop the rain from ..."), which is pure pop perfection, complete with beautiful backing vocals and Lee's British affectations on such compelling lines as "Walk away from the dirt and decay" and "Hang on tight in the blinding white light." It's a killer track, one that makes you feel happy and sad all at the same time, and a genuine hit — if only in one's mind — in any decade.
The band is somewhat less successful when they drift away from the pop and into the full-on rock. "This Ain't the Motor City" has good intentions ("I heard on the radio/They're laughing in Tokyo") but doesn't work on a sonic level. The sax that's added in several places on the disc is more of a distraction than a killer addition. And the Flynns may have been wiser to leave the two cover tunes — Badfinger's "Baby Blue" (way too well known) and Bob Seger's "Lucifer" — in the studio. The sole ballad, "Annie," is also pretty nondescript. But when the band hits on all four cylinders and is more concerned with tuneage than concept, there is surely enough here to bring a satisfied smile to fans of both Cheap Trick and the early Knack. The hooks are sometimes that good.
Bill Holdship is the music editor of Metro Times Send comments to [email protected].