Mike Pope – Ripening (Ain’t It Strange)
A little rockier than Mike Pope’s “Songs For People” (reviewed here: REVIEW: Mike Pope “Songs For People (High & Low)” collection is this set as The Ripening who are Mike Pope, Peter Hirsch & Billy Coughlin with Orion Ferguson (synth). Drums, guitars & bass with a far grittier set. Mike has a unique voice but not a distinctive one (Elvis Costello, David Byrne & Joe Jackson) but an engaging one.
Of course, while not having an audience akin to Neil Young, it can be difficult to see-saw between genres like “Songs For People,” & then morph into the lo-fat grunge of “I’m Free.” But I like this. I had to adjust my attitude between the 2 albums, but Pope is effective in his evocative Joe Strummer costume cum Graham Parker.
The guitars bristle in a Big Star era manner. It all inhabits an entirely different musical sphere than his previous work. While the folk tunes were sautéed & tasty this is deep fried with a crunch – tasty, nevertheless.
Produced by Daniel Cervantes and Jordan Andreen this LP is the antitheses of “Songs For People.” A grittier poetic punk vision tracked live as a single performance with each tune segueing to the next seamlessly. The 11-cut Ripening (Ain’t It Strange) – (Drops Oct 7-Blind Owl) is at times played with punk energy but it meanders (“A Little Bit More”) since the break doesn’t explore the boundaries it pushes. The guitar solo is fanciful, the drums could’ve been far more creative (think B.J. Wilson on Procol Harum’s “Broken Barricades”).
But Pope stands on a solid foundation. “Colleen,” is 60s catchy – a cross between Dwight Twilley & Talking Heads if that’s possible. The vocally treated voice percolates nicely. Solid rhythm, aggressive & consistent. This would’ve been a 70s dance club hit. Excellent. It’s not The Clash but it’s somewhere between them, the Knack, Boomtown Rats & with a Strummer-Costello radiance.
“Why Don’t You Love Me Like You Used To?” & “I Looked High & Low,” is a great segue – a heart-wrenching tune with angst, a piano & Pope’s voice being quite expressive. The title is mindful of The Outsiders’ “What Makes You So Bad (You Weren’t Brought Up That Way).” On this, Pope flutters in a high register close to Pavlov Dog’s David Surkamp’s tonal fuel that Pope fires up here.
The construction of songs is commendable & each holds an abundance of well-arranged grooves (“My Spirit Orbits”). The guitar is jazzy & interplay is impressive. The locomotive drums work better here though there was space for the added dynamics of creative fills.
Before the reprise of the first 3 songs, “Every Loving Herd Does As It Should,” ignites like a lit match on gasoline. A well-propelled song.
Highlights – “I’m Free,” (both), “Colleen,” & “Why Don’t You Love Me Like You Used To?” “I Looked High & Low,” “My Spirit Orbits,” & “Every Loving Herd Does As It Should,”
Image courtesy of Mike Pope’s website. Music sample & CD @ https://mikepope.bandcamp.com/album/ripening-aint-it-strange + https://www.blindowlsd.com/mike-pope