The 80s have roared back. But is there room for some of the actual, foremost practitioners of 80s rock? The Suburbs’ new album Hey Muse! shouts an emphatic, "YES!"
Among the Twin Cities' most influential and inventive bands, The Suburbs’ urbane romanticism remains intact, along with a keen sense for a hook and plenty of thump to keep the dance floor moving.
Hey Muse! is the second album from the revitalized group. The record is full of mod moves and tones that feel contemporary, but there is a sensibility in the songwriting that remains consistent with the group's work from the 80s. And since Chan Poling, the principal creative force and singer for the group continues to lead them, this comes as no surprise.
Poling is joined by Hugo Klaers, the original Suburbs drummer. Anyone who knows what makes rock bands tick understands that with the original drummer and singer, the personality of the group will continue intact, and so it is.
The rest of the band is comprised of Minneapolis rock and roll veterans who honor the old sound, while updating it. The newest Suburb, guitarist Jeremy Ylvisaker has played with artists like Andrew Bird, Haley Bonar and Alpha Consumer, and has toured the world. He mixes skronk and atmospherics in equal parts and plays a large role in making this new record feel more contemporary than their last effort, Si Sauvage.
Also on guitar is the amazingly thin Steve Brantseg, a longtime friend and erstwhile Twin/Tone label mate of The Suburbs when he was a member of The Phones. Brantseg brings guitar swagger and deep empathy to the line-up. He has been there, done that and doesn't have any truck with regrets.
Steve Price, who shares production duties with Poling, rounds out the rhythm section with his melodious bass approach. He doesn't stint on driving the groove hard, however. The record also features the Suburban horn section, featuring the band’s old friend Max Ray (The Wallets, etc.) on sax, with Rochelle Becker and Stephen Kung, set back and fattening the sound, and the wicked blend of backing vocalist Janey Winterbauer.
The Suburbs were founded on the principle that music is best enjoyed when you are shaking your ass. Hey Muse! is full of tunes that should get a crowd moving. The title track opens with a "Lust for Life"-style groove and proceeds to a big sing along "whoa whoa" chorus. On the track, Poling implores his muse to "...teach me a song and make it happy because I'm sick of the sorrows of this world..." This sets the mood for much of what follows. "Bittersweet" and "romantic" are the tone of much of the record, though I doubt if the people dancing will mind much.
David Bowie and Bryan Ferry haunt the grooves on a number of songs, especially the romantic "We Could Be Lovers," complete with saxophones weaving in and out ala Roxy Music, T Rex or Bowie's mid-70s work. Hard to fault anyone for mining those rich veins though...after all, everybody's doing it, though few as skillfully as The Suburbs.
The standout closing song on the record comes closest to real nostalgia: "When we were young, we loved the boys and the songs they sung... when we were boys we fell in love with the loudest noise," is likely a sentiment any lover of rock music can understand...but Poling takes it another step, into his personal circumstance, maybe, with the bitter, "It's just so tragic, now you're gone." You can only speculate what he's referring to: his old bandmates, his wife, the heroes he plainly loves now among the departed...but the passion rings out in his voice.