CD Review of The Last Great 20th Century Love Affair by The Now People

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The Last Great 20th Century Love Affair
starstarstarhalf starno star Label: Bird Song/Parasol
Released: 2006
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In 2006, when you’re a band who takes their musical cues from folks like the 5th Dimension, Curt Boettcher, Paul Williams, and Emmit Rhodes, you’re hoeing a pretty damned hard commercial row. As such, you can’t do things half-arsed, and you can’t go in expecting to make a million bucks with your tunes; if you’re not completely and totally devoted to the sheer craft of creating the best possible lush, ‘60s-styled pop, throwing a blind eye to any and all current musical trends…well, frankly, you might as well not even bother.

The Now People, it can be readily determined from their debut album, The Last Great 20th Century Love Affair, have that devotion; it all but oozes from every pore of the disc. Oh, sure, the phrase creates an admittedly disgusting image – come on, admit it, you’re feeling a little queasy right now, aren’t you? – but it’s an accurate description. There isn’t a moment during these proceedings where you don’t feel the love these guys have for their music.

The Now People are unquestionably a band, but when you delve into the heart and history of the organization, you find that they’re very much a labor of love from lead singer Steve Stanley, who also wrote all but one of the album’s twelve tracks. (The exception is a cover of the Paul Williams/Roger Nichols song, “Trust.”) Stanley formerly fronted the dearly departed Single Bullet Theory, whose song “Finding Out” was one of the best songs of 1998. (In a pleasant surprise, the song appears on the Now People’s album as well, though it’s been re-recorded and re-titled “My Luck Ran Out.”) Stanley looked long and hard to put together a group of guys who appreciated the same musical touchstones as himself and would share his dedication to reproducing their feel. Probyn Gregory and Nelson Bragg, both members of Brian Wilson’s band (as well as occasional members of the similarly-styled Mello Cads), have plenty of experience with lush pop music; Gregory handles the horn arrangements while throwing in a bit of banjo as well, while Bragg is responsible for percussion. The final member of the quartet is Alan “Ruby” Rubens; both he and Bragg provide backing vocals, and Rubens also fronts the harpsichord, sharing piano and keyboard duties with Stanley.

There are moments throughout The Last Great 20th Century Love Affair that echo soft-pop artists from throughout the ‘60s and ‘70s, like “To Hurt One Another,” which is surely an intentional nod to the Carpenters’ “Hurting Each Other,” but it’s more a collection of general stylistic homages rather than specific ones. There are songs that evoke the work of Jimmy Webb and Brian Wilson, but not so much that you can necessarily cite specific songs they remind you of. There are also lovely, subtle musical touches, like the banjo that comes in near the end of “Something Happened” or the flute on “Trust” that catch the ear and inspire a smile. The most surprising track is probably “Old and Gray/A Little Brighter,” which sounds like a Bing Crosby number from the ‘30s...though knowing these guys, it could just as well be a tribute to Harper’s Bizarre or someone like that.

In truth, the Now People are about as far from “now” as, say, the Stray Cats were in the ‘80s. They’re a band out of time, with no place in the modern world. If you’re looking for a quick trip back to a kinder, gentler musical era, consider the 20th Century.

~Will Harris