The Posies may not have been the founders of power pop—we’ll credit Badfinger, the Raspberries, Todd Rundgren and hell, if you really want to be specific, the Beatles, for that accomplishment—but they did as much as anyone to further the cause and procure that genre’s place in the rock pantheon. Sadly, they weren’t as successful as they should have been, and while it may have been slightly premature to name their first outing Failure, they ended up having to claw their way forward for any recognition they eventually received.
That said, the band did get its chance at a big breakthrough when they were signed to DGC Records, an offshoot of the prestigious Geffen Records label. That led to a string of superb albums that brought them through the mid ‘90s and helped them reap critical kudos. Long considered the band’s best, these recordings retain their energy and exuberance even today.
It’s appropriate then that as they celebrate main Posies Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow’s 30th anniversary as a creative unit, Omnivore Records should opt to re-release those seminal sides—specifically Dear 23, Frosting on the Beater and Amazing Disgrace—with a slew of bonus tracks, rarities and unreleased tracks appended to each album. Granted, it is a bit overwhelming trying to digest the entirety of these offerings, each of which provide approximately 25 add-ons per set, but wading through this treasure trove of collectibles is well worth the effort.
Dear 23, the band’s second album and first for a major label, was so explosive at the time of its release in 1990. Having recorded Failure at home, the band took advantage of all the additives and embellishments a big budget could offer. Though lumped in with the “college rock” crowd at the time, it’s also an audio extravaganza. The sound, coaxed to life by English producer John Leckie, seemed to literally erupt from the speakers, brimming with hooks, harmonies and songs so captivating and effusive, repeated listens became all but mandatory.
It’s tough to single out individual highlights, given that the entire album melded together so well, but suffice it to say that “My Big Mouth,” “Golden Blunders,” Apology” and the aptly named “Flood of Sunshine” still stand out, sounding as fresh now as they did back then. The slew of demos added to both the original track listing and a second bonus disc confirms the fact that these songs emerged fully formed early on. The added material also includes some contemporaneous highlights from this era like the should’ve been a hit “Spite & Malice” and both sides of their 1992 7” tribute to the late Chris Bell with their covers of his solo track “I Am The Cosmos” and one of his best Big Star tunes “Feel.”
Frosting on the Beater may, in fact, be the highlight of their career, given that it boasts “Dream All Day,” arguably their best song. Regardless, the entire album possesses sheer vitality throughout, with no let-up in effort or enthusiasm. Melody and mayhem are offered in equal measure, and the band seems to have forsaken their earlier traces of dewey-eyed sentiment, making this the most aggressive effort of their peak period. Here again, a host of leftovers fill the end of disc one and all of disc two, with a good number of the extras offered in the form of actual unreleased songs
The most recent reissue is the unfortunately dubbed Amazing Disgrace, an album that arrived at the end of their tenure with DGC. Not surprisingly, as the title suggests, it’s fraught with as much pessimism as perseverance. Approaching their late twenties, Auer and Stringfellow were looking at the rapid encroachment of adulthood as well as a career path that remained uncertain at best. Ironically, the most telling track on the album is a song called “The Certainty,” an atmospheric entry that lends a certain sense of wistful reflection. The extras that grace this particular volume consist primarily of demos, but comparing the demo of “Sad To Be Aware” with the alternate version that precedes it ably illustrates the creative arc that took the band from the initial inception to a finished creation. Interestingly enough, the band often went with the original arrangements in shaping the final sound.
After Amazing Disgrace, another ironically titled album, Success, would mark the end of phase one of the Posies’ career. A shift in the line-up, a split with their record label, overexertion and simple exhaustion led to a short but necessary hiatus that may have temporarily doomed them to relative obscurity. Still, that points out the credence that came in this particularly prolific period. The booklets that accompany each album go into ample detail describing that early trajectory.
The Posies ought to have been much bigger than they became. After all, they embodied everything that any power pop practitioner would aspire to: vibrant melodies, effusive harmonies and a teeming dynamic that pulled their listeners in and then held them spellbound until each songs reached its conclusion. Why they haven’t done better—or at least won a wider audience—is anyone’s guess. These three albums may magnify that mystery, but also provide some overdue recompense at the same time.