I truly hope that Silverlake is the album to break Ireland’s Pugwash to a broader audience. Like its six predecessors, the new album is chockfull of songs rich with lush melodies and pop hooks for days. Produced, engineered and mixed by Jason Falkner (The Three O’Clock, The Grays, Jellyfish, etc.), Silverlake is very much a showcase (as most of the other albums have been, frankly) for main songwriter, singer and guitarist Thomas Walsh who is the only original member of the band on this album, here handling lead vocals and acoustic guitar. Initially surprising, according to the official info from the album’s label, Lojinx Records, Jason Falkner plays most everything else on this album apart from a string quartet. The album was mastered and cut for vinyl at Abbey Road in England. You can also hear it via digital download and streaming on Tidal. Silverlake is at its best when you turn up the volume on your amp a bunch.
With that in mind, Silverlake sounds like a Pugwash album probably should sound in 2018. It took me several listens to the CD-quality download — which I received on the day of release in late November as part of the Kickstarter program that funded this album — to get my head around the new sound compared to prior Pugwash albums (the vinyl didn’t arrive until after Christmas, thus this review appearing today). The differences between this new and prior Pugwash albums are subtle but significant. To my ear, Silverlake is a more American sounding British-flavored pop-rock album (and yes, I know Pugwash is from Ireland, contributing to the uniqueness of their sound) which is obvious in some regards but worth noting, given it was recorded in Los Angeles with the instrumental backing and production created largely by an American musician. This is not a bad thing, mind you.
Speaking of British rock in America, consider how different The Kinks sounded when they switched to Arista Records in the mid-late 1970s, culminating with decidedly more American sounding pop albums which topped the US charts back then (Sleepwalker, Misfits, Low Budget, Give The People What They Want, etc.). They were great records and still decidedly sounded like The Kinks, but the sonic footprint of the music was quite different than the earlier recordings the band had put out on Reprise and RCA Records. The drums got increasingly bigger. The instrumental definition and even the band’s playing grew tighter and harder. The songs were sculpted towards the sound of U.S. rock radio of the time.
So… perhaps… Silverlake will be Pugwash’s Sleepwalker and help them reach a broader audience here in the States. All the hallmarks that have made Pugwash’s albums great are here, only now the production is a bit… well… bigger…. bolder… and shinier! Ultimately these are good things for appealing to the American musical palate (ie. radio play). What Thomas Walsh may have lost in not having his road-honed, swinging ‘n swaggering, full-on-Fab rockin’ band playing together with him in the studio on this album, he has hopefully gained in that extra burst of 21st Century listener appeal.
Silverlake is a fine sounding, modern-rock-ish power pop record replete with jangly guitars, driving drums, richly layered vocals and endless sunshine harmonies. The first single, “The Perfect Summer” is an obvious lead for the album with its hooky break intro, chiming guitars and Girls-In-Their-Summer-Clothes / Springsteen-flavored keyboard / synth signatures jumping out of the speakers. But its not even my favorite song on the album…
That distinction goes to deeper album tracks like “Sunshine True” with its lush string quartet textures (recorded at Abbey Road). ‘Everyone Knows That You’re Mine” sounds like classic Pugwash with — and I’m admittedly guessing on exactly what type of guitars were used on this folks, but it sure sounds like — big, 12-string Rickenbacker and 6-string Telecaster electrics layer-caked between strummy double-tracked acoustic guitars. Makes for a tasty dessert for your ears.
And then there is that endearing bridge section…
Songs like “Such a Shame” and “Better Than Nothing At All” are effortlessly exquisite in their execution, like lost out-takes from a peak period Badfinger album — think Straight Up — by way of Elvis Costello during his King of America / Blood & Chocolate period.
There are lots of great gems on Silverlake, an album which grows on you in leaps and bounds with each listen. Whatever way you listen, if you like power pop you owe it to yourself to check out Pugwash. The vinyl pressing on Silverlake is quiet and well centered, presenting a bright but ultimately warmer presentation of the music. That said, the 44.1 kHz, 16-bit download and the Tidal stream both sound real good too. Really, I can’t find any real reason to split hairs here. Its just a matter of what format you prefer.
If you aren’t familiar with Pugwash and Thomas Walsh and want to learn more about them, please click on these embedded links to reviews I’ve done in the recent past for their last album, Play This Intimately (As If Among Friends), as well as the first time vinyl reissues of the band’s debut, Almond Tea and its follow on, Almanac. All are fine recordings, cut from similar cloth and well worth your exploration especially if you are a fan of groups like XTC, Jeff Lynne’s ELO (and The Move and The Idle Race), The Kinks, The Beatles, Jellyfish, The Grays, Badfinger and … well… you get the idea.
Better, yet: go listen to Pugwash’s latest now. You can find tracks like “What Are You Like” and “Why Do I” (and other songs I’ve mentioned earlier) streaming up on the Interwebs and on Tidal (again, poke around here and click on the hyper links here to get to them and other information I’ve researched for you).
Go for it. Swan dive into Silverlake (the water’s great!).