Power-pop tends to be one of those ambiguous terms in music that fetches all sorts of opinions. Purists like Michael Slawter tend to call out folks like Cheap Trick, Big Star and The Replacements as the poster children for the genre, and few would argue with this definition. In forming his latest pop project – The Saving Graces – Slawter looked to hold true to these sensibilities. The result is his group’s debut album Outside Guiding Lights.
Although more stripped-down and saccharine-free than the standard bubblegum fare, The Saving Graces offer plenty of the usual tricks of the power-pop trade. Sure, the hooks and harmonies aren’t as abrupt or in your face as you might find from acts that prefer the water from the post-’65 Beatles well. Yet, with The Saving Graces, Slawter seems to suggest that good power-pop need not rely on typical over-the-top trickery to draw in listeners.
Fair enough, but the results are inconclusive at best. Despite its honorable efforts to present another side of power-pop, Outside Guiding Lights ironically forgets the “power” element in many of its tracks. The result is an album that hits a few clean chords only to suffer from an identity crisis that leads the group into territory already charted by the likes of Barenaked Ladies and Hootie and the Blowfish.