Dressing Up the Failure
First Appeared at The Music Box, December 2001, Volume 8, #12
Written by T.J. Simon
In recent years, power pop has made a long overdue comeback in the form of great groups such as Frisbie, Fastball, and The Webb Brothers. Perhaps this is a conscious backlash to the self-loathing of grunge, the self-aggrandizement of rap-rock, and the self-indulgence of many jam bands. After all, there's certainly nothing wrong with a back-to-basics approach to music when the basics are anchored by the influence of The Beatles, The Byrds, and The Kinks.
Carrying on this proud tradition is Iowa's own Starch Martins whose recent release Dressing Up the Failure draws upon the finest traditions of pop music's past and present. The band's leader singer/songwriter/guitarist Dick Prall had formerly recorded under his eponymous moniker, but for his latest release, he recruited a large cast of musicians to complement him, adding a mix of guitars, keyboards, vibes, percussion, and pedal steel. His sister, Traci Hegarty, also sings with him on Stay Little Baby, a catchy, cello-enhanced song as good as anything on the radio today.
At times, Starch Martins' music sounds quite a bit like Scottish popsters Del Amitri or Canada's Barenaked Ladies. Prall belts out hook-heavy ballads and up-tempo numbers in a booming, resonant voice, and he never misses a note on any of Dressing Up the Failure's thirteen songs. The toe-tappin' arrangement of Haven't You Noticed pays homage to the works of Simon & Garfunkel with an added twangy guitar bridge. And despite its derivative nature, Don't Ever Think is an extremely appealing tune that will have you humming for days.
The Starch Martins' greatest strength lies in Prall's own vocal and composition skills, and its greatest weakness lies in his unchallenging lyrics. Most songs focus on a single thought such as the desire for or end of romance (Bye, Bye, Bye and Happy, Gracefully, respectively), and this is done in ways that have been heard countless times before. The only song that lyrically soars is Another Yesterday, in which a longing to replay the past is beautifully scripted by Prall over the haunting pedal steel guitar of Eric Heywood.
Nevertheless, there really isn't a bad track on Dressing Up the Failure — which, these days, is a rare feat for any artist. Keep your eyes open for Starch Martins. Prall and his crew seem determined to make it big. "You're gonna hear it on the radio/You're gonna buy it for the stereo/You're gonna see it in a video," he sings on Close, the album's best song. After several listens to this disc, you just may begin to believe it, too. ½
1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2001 The Music Box