Lately, I've been thinking about power-pop music. Not something I ever had much cause to do before. But then I saw Girlfriend at Berkeley Rep (prev. post), the new musical written around Matthew Sweet's 1991 power-pop album of the same name. And also, I'm slowly working my way through McSweeney's San Francisco Panorama, and just read Michael Chabon's essay about power pop and the 1970s band Big Star.
Chabon writes: "[Power pop] is happy music--eminently "poppy"--which depends for its power on the cryptic presence, in a lyric or a chord change or a bit of upside-down vocal harmony, of sadness, yearning, even despair. [...] True power pop is rueful and celebratory at the same time, glorifying desire and frustration, which is why so many power-pop songs concern themselves with the subject of Tonight, or Tomorrow Night, or Saturday Night, or some other night that will only be perfect for as long as it can be deferred. [...] All the clouds of power pop are worn inside out to show the silver lining."
When I read that, it made me think of my new favorite song, "The Luckiest Guy on the Lower East Side" by the Magnetic Fields. (69 Love Songs was one of the things that helped me cope with the busy season at my job.) If you don't know it, here's a fan-created music video:
I guess, strictly speaking, this is not "power pop"--there's no guitars or drums or vocal harmonies in the mix. But it fits Chabon's dictum of "eminently happy/poppy music that is haunted by despair." With its bouncy synthesizers, its wacky spring-like thing twanging away in the background, its sunny title, "Luckiest Guy on the Lower East Side" sounds like it ought to be a happy love song. But listen to the lyrics--and the purity of yearning contained in that last "wanna go for a riiide"--and it becomes one of the most poignant songs I have ever heard. It makes my heart hurt.