later released by Pop Llama Records, had been well circulated as a demo tape in1988 before the Posies had added bassist Mike Musbeger and drummer Rick Roberts and started gigging regularly as a four-piece.
The common reference point for the Posies these days is Big Star, at least in part because Ken and Jon joined the reactivated Big Star in the late 90s. (It’s even mentioned in the first sentence of Trouser Press’s entry on the Posies.) At a certain point (specifically, “Apology” on Dear 23), the influence of Alex Chilton and co. started creeping into their music, but Failure doesn’t contain even the slightest hint of Big Star. Rather—as all of the press and even my dad noted at the time—the Posies resembled the Hollies, with a significant dash of early 80s English pop, like XTC.
In fact, for Dear 23, they even recruited former XTC producer Jon Leckie to man the boards. (Leckie also worked with the Fall, the Stone Roses, New Order, and, erm, Gene Loves Jezebel.) It’s awfully difficult to listen to this record (or even Failure) objectively anymore, as everything about it reminds me of high school. Some of Leckie’s lush soundscapes and effects (e.g., song endings fade into the sound of falling rain) layer a bit too much melodrama on the music; this, combined with the Posies sometimes corny lyrics, makes it a perfect soundtrack for high school’s melodramas but perhaps not for older listening. Don’t get me wrong—it’s a great record, but one that must be accepted with its limitations in mind. I don’t think it’s an accident that my absolute favorite track from this era is the completely unadorned b-side to “Suddenly Mary,” “Spite and Malice.”
The wikipedia entry has a brief explanation of the nasty label pressure put on the Posies after Dear 23 (which was actually fairly successful!). In short: they started recording a follow-up, dumped/lost their bassist, scrapped the follow-up, started a new follow-up with Don Fleming, received a thumbs down from the label, added a few “hits,” got the thumbs up, replaced the rhythm section, yadda yadda yadda. The follow-up, Frosting on the Beater, has without a doubt aged the best of all their records; the harder edge that Fleming emphasized always existed in their live shows but not on their records, and it compliments the sugary harmonies wonderfully. I won’t talk about it much here, as I’m already rambling on like an old man. Failure came out when I was in high school? Christ, I should start sprinkling No Salt on my supper. Then again, if I’m making jokes about being old, it means I’m not old yet: unfortunately, it means I’m middle aged and unfunny.
We got off the train around this time. I never cottoned to the fourth record, Amazing Disgrace, and we kind of burned out on seeing them live. (We saw them around a dozen times, as they played frequently in
Burning Sky Records will release a tribute record this spring. The band’s homepage is here. A good discography can be found here, and if you’re burning to download live shows via bittorrent, check out the message board on their homepage.
Suddenly Mary ep
From Frosting on the Beater:
And all of them are handily collected on this .zip file.