Tuesday, June 24, 2008


To say that fans have had to wait for the fourth Smoking Popes album of original material is an understatement. The beloved Chicago power pop band broke up shortly after the release of its last proper album, 1997’s "Destination Failure," reformed in 2005 and soon after began referencing imminent new studio material. The result, "Stay Down" was originally scheduled for release in September 2007, but extensive label shopping put it on hold. The Popes recently settled on indie label Appeal Records, and the album finally showed up for download this month on iTunes.

Fortunately, the new material is worth the wait. All of the band’s signature qualities are in tact – the crooning, Morrissey-esque vocals of Josh Caterer, the pristine pop melodies, the straightforward lyrics and the full guitar sound. Many fans will already be familiar with some of the album’s strongest cuts, including opener “Welcome to Janesville,” “If You Don’t Care” and the title track, all of which the Popes previewed at post-reunion shows. “If You Don’t Care” is arguably the star of the album, featuring an instantly infectious melody that holds up against Smoking Popes standards such as “I Know You Love Me” and “Need You Around.” This one will live in your head for days.

The beautiful, saccharine sweet “Little Jane-Marie,” presumably written for Caterer's daughter, is another highlight. With lines such as “perhaps we could split a thousand cheerios, or just sit around and suck our thumbs,” the song could easily be way too precious, but it ultimately comes off as likeble, innocent pop. This kind of pure sincerity is something the band has mastered, and is actually a refreshing break from legions of bands trying too hard to be cool.

Listening to “Stay Down” provides no indication that the Popes ever left. The album is an honest, comfortable addition to the band’s catalog, and is bound to please not only old fans, but anyone who can appreciate a good pop hook.

Check out the Popes live June 28 at the Lakeside Festival in Crystal Lake and June 29 at the Belmont Arts and Music Festival.

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