by David Bauder, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 25 January 1991
KEN STRINGFELLOW of the Posies, at 22 too young to have experienced Beatlemania firsthand, discovered as a child that Paul McCartney made music before Wings.
The melodic pop-rock songs of the Beatles and other groups that fed musical appetites in the 1960s have now inspired a whole new generation of rockers, and ”Dear 23,” the major-label debut album by Stringfellow’s Posies, shows that they’ve learned their lesson well.
To the Posies, there’s nothing more sacred than a three-minute pop song with ringing guitars and lush harmonies – a style rendered almost extinct in today’s music world of drum machines and heavy metal.
Critics have dubbed them a third-generation pop band, because they grew up worshipping 1970s artists such as Todd Rundgren, the Raspberries and cult favorites XTC and Big Star, who in turn drew their inspiration from the original British Invasion – the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Who, the Kinks.
The Posies hail from Seattle, the music industry’s current regional hotbed for innovative new acts. When they were teen-agers, Stringfellow and Jon Auer discovered that their voices meshed unusually well as they sang in school choirs. But stints with heavy metal bands persuaded them to abandon chorus, and they recorded a much-praised independent album, added bassist Rick Roberts and drummer Mike Musburger, and were signed to Geffen Records.
”Dear 23” is rife with ’60s influences. ”Golden Blunders” is a play on the Beatles’ ”Golden Slumbers.” Sound effects like telephones and rain are interspersed through the tracks.
But the album is filled with such downbeat ’90s song topics as teen-age pregnancy, a stifling marriage and the ”purgatory of growing up.” Stringfellow rationalizes romantic disappointment by musing in the lyrics to ”Any Other Way” that ”at least I’ve something I can write about.”
”We’re almost afraid to write a happy song,” he explained. ”Just because we’re under this pop category , we don’t want to be misunderstood as a dippy, Hallmark-card kind of insipid band. . . . We’ve kind of taken it upon ourselves to explore more somber subjects.”
On ”Dear 23,” producer John Leckie layers guitar on guitar in a thick musical mix that occasionally has Auer and Stringfellow sounding as if they’re at opposite ends of a long tunnel.
”If you make someone listen to this record, it’s like making them eat five pieces of German chocolate cake,” Stringfellow said. ”It’s so dense that at certain times you get queasy.”
Stringfellow promises a more stripped-down sound for the next Posies album.
”Good music is appreciated eventually,” Stringfellow said. ”If we’re not appreciated, there’s a reason for it. And if we are appreciated, there’s a reason for it. I don’t like to view things in terms of phases and trends.
”That’s kind of dangerous in a way,” he said. ”Phases go out.”