Depending on your sentiments, power-pop is either music in its purist form or a vacuous and overly simplified genre. I have always been among the defenders, largely because it can be one of the most affecting types of music when done correctly. However, getting it right is a difficult assignment. Potential supergroup Tinted Windows' recently released self-titled debut is evidence to this difficulty.
Listing the band members of Tinted Windows is like introducing the starting five of the NBA All-Star game: Taylor Hanson (Hanson) on lead vocals, James Iha (Smashing Pumpkins) on guitar, Adam Schlesinger (Fountains of Wayne) on bass and Ben E. Carlos (Cheap Trick) on drums. These four heavyweights have a firm grasp on the principles of pop music, and their melodies reflect this.
The album has numerous catchy songs. "Kind of a Girl" and "Without Love" both wriggle their way into your head and down to your lips with little resistance. Hanson has developed a more-than-serviceable rock ‘n' roll voice since his pre-pubescent Hanson days. Iha comes up with enough memorable guitar riffs to fill the record, while Schlesinger and Carlos—whose work is the band's primary influence—give the album its direction.
Therein lies the problem, however. While Fountains of Wayne and Cheap Trick are good at pumping out catchy riffs and hooky choruses, they betray the ideals left behind by power pop's forefathers such as Badfinger and Big Star.
Truly great power-pop bands always put their primary emphasis on feeling. Power-pop at its best is perhaps the most nakedly emotional of all rock music's subgenres. Listen to "Thirteen" by Big Star and note the sentimentality it coaxes out of you; listen to Raspberries' "Overnight Sensation" and try not to get caught up in its intoxicating joy. Other genres simply cannot approach this poignancy.
Granted, these songs—and the genre in general—have historically focused on simple things. It bears noting, though, that simple and asinine can be mutually exclusive. The pursuance of a girl is no doubt a hackneyed song subject, but articulate, fresh lyrics can rejuvenate the feelings that come with it (insecurity, heartbreak, jubilation). Modern power-pop has regrettably fallen into idiocy with bands like Jimmy Eat World and All-American Rejects, who don't make the effort to articulate emotion, preferring instead to hide behind over-produced hooks.
While Tinted Windows doesn't quite sink to the present-day level of banality, they remain too concerned about the record's sound to communicate genuine emotional depth. One of the album's catchiest songs, "Dead Serious" is a testament to this. It should be a heart-rending plea to a woman, conveying the vulnerability one feels in the days leading to a breakup. Instead, it's a baseless showpiece for the album's pristine production. It's a shame this song, and the album as a whole, chooses to eschew sentiment because Taylor Hanson belted one of the more blissful vocal tracks in pop music with "Mmmbop," and James Iha was the instrumental backbone for some of the '90s most emotionally raw rock songs.
Power-pop is a genre that only works with soul-baring truthfulness. If the band chooses to substitute this for anything else, whether it be production or inanity, it merely becomes James Blunt with prettier harmonies.