What a delight listening to decades-old music and not feeling compelled to hear it through the fog of nostalgia. That was my first reaction to The A&M Years, a reissue of two mid-1980s albums by Atlanta’s The Swimming Pool Q’s.
The Q’s were, nominally speaking, a New Wave band, and, as such, contemporaries of synth-playing, skinny-tie-wearing, goofy-haircut-having groups like Soft Cell, Missing Persons, Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Haircut 100 and Kajagoogoo. And who among us (of a certain age) can ever forget A Flock Of Seagulls? How can you listen to “I Ran” other than as a distinct product of its time?
Contrast that campy drivel with the Q’s’ “Dream in Gray,” my favorite song of the 20 in the reissue set. It has more in common with Rumours-era Fleetwood Mac. Built around a ringing, chewy guitar lick, it percolates into a luminescent chorus pushed to sublime heights by singer Anne Richmond Boston’s harmonies. Guitarist Bob Elsey’s painterly guitar work swells, building the tune’s intensity — its majesty.
“I Ran” was a Top 10 hit. “Dream in Gray” didn’t do shit. But 27 years later, the Q’s song is transcendent.
While not fully stocked with mini-masterpieces, the two albums in this set — The Swimming Pool Q’s (1984) and Blue Tomorrow (’86) — portray a fine band of accomplished musicians that were, if anything, out of step with their time. The songs are not three-chord ditties with simple hooks that pummeled radio programmers into submission. They’re varied in tone, attitude and theme.
There is a handful of fast, hooky gems, tangentially in the new wave mold (“Pull Back My Spring,” “More Than One Heaven”); quirky, bass-driven satires featuring Jeff Calder’s smart-ass bellow (“Corruption,” “Big Fat Tractor”); the jangly power-pop of “Pretty on the Inside” and “Wreck Around,” the tune that best portrays Calder’s fine lyric writing. “And I saw time begin to bend / Through a window at the five-and-ten,” Boston sings in a tune that eloquently evokes mixed feelings about changes in the New South.
For good measure, the collection contains a mutant or two, best evidenced in “Blue Tomorrow,” which is, at essence, a country-rock song.
We could lament that such a great band got lost in the shuffle when it deserved to reach the top of the deck, but instead I’d rather focus on the terrific artifacts left behind.