After the one-two punch of 2002’s Love Will Find You and 2003’s All Your Summer Songs, Saturday Looks Good to Me (and main man Fred Thomas) had a trainload of momentum. AYSS was mooned over by nearly all who took the time to find it — and rightfully so. Its meticulously crafted handmade charms effortlessly married Wilson and Spector, Motown and Emo, and the expansive sonic scope was elevated by Thomas’ heart-on-sleeve poetics. So what’s a songwriter to do once he has mastered the art of the four-track orch-pop opus? Why, record and release a party record, of course — one that takes its cues from the band’s increasingly consistent live shows. One that dives into Jonathan Sings!-era JoJo without a hint of shame and with an armload of Paul Weller records, to boot.
All this wouldn’t mean a lick if Every Night didn’t give ample testimony to Thomas’ growing knack for penning a turn of phrase that goes from simple to sublime or wry to heartbreaking before the last breath is sung. “If You Ask,” nicks “Time of the Season” to deliver a couple’s autumn walk through a leaf-strewn park. “When You Got to New York” is secondhand regret distilled and all the lovelier for the spare guitar ’n’ vocals arrangement. The same can be said of the clever rapid-fire invective Thomas spews on “When the Party Ends,” except that on the LP version (yes, there’s two versions) it doesn’t suffer for having the rollicking accompaniment of the full band. Either way, it’s the kind of tune that’s made Mr. T Experience’s Dr. Frank, Sarge’s Elizabeth Elmore and SLGTM pal Ted Leo rightfully lauded for syntactic gymnastics. And, fear not, the party resumes on the next tune, which the thrift score hero begins by hearing his lost love’s message on the answering machine, through the floorboards, while lying on the basement floor. (Yes, it’s still, essentially, a party record, even for all that).
Thomas’ heavy-lidded vocal range and delivery has been expanded even as he plays its limitations. Too, he may have finally met his idiosyncratic vocal match in one Betty Barnes, whose tone and enunciation ring as clear as a morning on Lake Huron. Their he-said/she-said duet on “The Girl’s Distracted” is pop perfection.
Even when Thomas and company aren’t treading particularly new or invigorated ground — as on the Northern Soul-inflected, organ-colored groove of “Lift Me Up” — they get by on their references and bright shiny distractions. (In this case, see also aforementioned Northern Soul beat, plucked and strummed harp and a vocalist whose delivery amid the baroque pop can’t help but be compared to St. Etienne’s Sarah Cracknell).
If you haven’t caught Saturday Looks Good to Me live, this is an ample introduction to the group’s charms. If you’re caught up in the myth of the basement-recording hermit, this is a potent reminder that even indie-pop can be a social event.
Saturday Looks Good To Me appears at Young Soul Rebels Records (4152 Woodward Ave., Detroit, 313-832-2001) on Sunday, Sept. 12, with Warren Defever, Dead Machines, Little Claw, Niko, Nomo, Metal Dungeon, and DJ-On. The benefit show starts at 8 p.m.
Chris Handyside writes about music for the Metro Times. E-Mail email@example.com.