The future of pop music is actually resting in some very able hands. Now if they can just get people to listen to them.
U.S. "alternative rock" has turned out some very credible pop acts recently - with Matthew Sweet, the Posies, Superchunk and the Connells leaping immediately to mind.And the trend shows no sign of letting up. Here are three examples from promising young American pop bands:
VELOCITY GIRL; "Simpatico!" (Sub Pop). * * *
Not everything on this Virginia five-piece's newest album - its second for Seattle label Sub Pop - is as wondrous as the singles "Sorry Again" and "There's Only One Thing Left to Say." But then again, it probably doesn't need to be.
Wisely enlisting ace British producer John Porter, who helmed various Smiths releases, to run the boards, "Simpatico!" stakes out new territory for Velocity Girl - ringing pop that makes much better use of Sarah Shannon's rich voice than the band's earlier, feedback-drenched material.
The emphasis is on harmonies and clearer melodies this time around, leading to winners like the singles and "Labrador." The album does run out of steam near the end, but long after the gems have made a memorable impres-sion.
VELVET CRUSH; "Teenage Symphonies to God" (550/Epic). * * * 1/2
Like their friend Matthew Sweet, the members of Rhode Island trio Velvet Crush remember the great but ignored pop geniuses, like Big Star and the dBs.
Former Let's Active leader Mitch Easter, who produced the first three R.E.M. efforts, has pointed the trio in the right direction. The band's second album is a tasteful collection of folk-influenced pop that bears at least a passing resemblance to Sweet's music, featuring bright melodies and harmonies and subtle arrangements.
And the band has considerable talent - Boston's late, lamented Cavedogs, all three members sing and play instruments. Songs like "Hold Me Up," "Time Wraps Around You" and a splendid cover of Gene Clark's "Why Not Your Baby" all point to greatness being around the corner.
WEEZER; "Weezer" (DGC). * * * 1/2
A mutant hybrid of Superchunk, the Beach Boys and Buddy Holly, L.A.'s Weezer is making a deserved splash on the merits of "Undone - The Sweater Song," a punkish number that smartly remembers everything that's fun about pop.
But most of the remaining material on the band's self-titled debut - especially "No One Else" and "The World Has Turned and Left Me Here" - is equally charming, and the off-kilter harmonies of guitarists Brian Bell and Rivers Cuomo are distinctive enough to help the band rise above many of its contemporaries.
The only misstep on the quartet's first album is "Only in Dreams," an eight-minute ode to the Beach Boys that runs on longer than Brian Wilson would have ever dared. But this is only a debut after all.
RATINGS: four stars (* * * * ), excellent; three stars (* * * ), good; two stars (* * ), fair; one star (* ), poor, with 1/2 representing a higher, intermediate grade.