Polished Power Pop

Melodic rock that's at its best blasting from a car stereo.

Desperate for a story in these lean times for rock, the mainstream music

press has been wasting precious trees playing up a new, insurgent "emocore"

movement, a hybrid of hardcore-punk ethos and sensitive-guy pathos.

Among the bands lumped into this somewhat amorphous genre is Wisconsin's

the Promise Ring — but don't be fooled by the label. Very Emergency,

the quartet's third full-length album, is pure power pop and has nothing

to do with punk rock, unless you consider Weezer to be punk rock. Which

you probably shouldn't.

In an alternative (read: better) universe, commercial radio would be

crawling with gems like the ones that make up Very Emergency. Like

fellow young Midwestern upstarts the Get Up Kids, the Promise Ring offer

supercharged, melodic rock that sounds best blasting out of car stereo

speakers.

And just as the Get Up Kids have taken a deliberate step towards mainstream

acceptance with their new release, Something to Write Home About,

the new Promise Ring album is more crafted and polished than 1997's

Nothing Feels Good. From the infectiously upbeat opening track,

"Happiness Is All the Rage" (RealAudio

excerpt), the emphasis here is on catchy hooks, deft lyrical turns

of phrase and maximum hummability over volume, although there is no shortage

of churning guitars. Lead singer Davey von Bohlen pulls off lines like

"We could do more outdoor things/ If we weren't so busy getting busy"

perfectly, establishing, in the album's early moments, the band's penchant

for writing pop songs that are as smart as they are sugary.

Just as addictive are such songs as the Cars-influenced "Skips a Beat

(Over You)" (RealAudio

excerpt), pseudo–title track "Emergency! Emergency!," "Living

Around" and "Arms & Danger." The band also shows some impressive versatility,

slowing the pace for "Things Just Getting Good" (RealAudio

excerpt) and the album closing "All of My Everythings," proving

that pop ballads can be sweet without being histrionic Goo Goo Dolls–style

treacle.

Although the very word "pop" has come to take on an almost derogatory

meaning in indie-rock circles, von Bohlen clearly isn't afraid to wear

his top-40 influences on his sleeve, and this record is a shining testament

to that. It's enough to make one think that modest but heartfelt records

such as Very Emergency might actually come within striking distance

of the top 40 someday. But that might be too much to hope for.