POWER POP was a product of the '70s, a safe compromise between the harmless charm of post "Sgt. Pepper" pop and the slick aggression of arena rock. Thanks to such original power poppers as the Raspberries and the Sweet and such inheritors as Cheap Trick and the Records, power pop is usually understood as a guitar-based genre. But the heart of the music is its commercial common sense; as a result, contemporary practitioners sound as high tech as anything else on the airwaves. Here are some recent examples:
RICK SPRINGFIELD -- "Tao" (RCA AJL1-5370). Springfield has long been seen as a performer who lives off his good looks and other people's licks. Lately, he's been trying to change that, moving away from the guitar-based pop of "Jesse's Girl" and toward a synthesizer-spiked sound that's surprsingly adventurous. Of course, Springfield rarely strays from his familiar melodicism -- he may be ambitious, but he's not crazy -- but the color added by the likes of synthesist Mitchell Froom keeps such songs as "Dance This World Away" and "The Power of Love" from tumbling into tedium.
JULES SHEAR -- "The Eternal Return" (EMI-America ST-17156). Shear, who wrote the Cyndi Lauper hit "All Through the Night," has long been lauded as one of rock's most imaginative, if idiosyncratic, tunesmiths. Here, however, he heads into the mainstream with surprising success, playing off the formulas of classic rock with the likes of "Here S/He Comes" and "If She Knew What She Wants," and scoring big with the mellow soul of "Steady." Mix in a distinctly literary lyrical ense, and Shear has a sure winner.
ELLIOT EASTON -- "Change No Change" (Electra 9-60393-1). As the Cars' guitarist, Easton provides the rock and roll teeth to an often all-too-arch pop approach. On his own, though, Easton, who will be at the Bayou Saturday, favors neither extreme; he works to further his songs through sharp playing and focused arrangements, rather than dealing with stylistic quirks. Given the melodic depth of this material, written by Easton with Jules Shear, "Change No Change" begs to be played and replayed. But because Easton's voice lacks the authority of his guitar, the album falls short of perfection.
GREG KIHN -- "Citizen Kihn" (EMI-America SJ-17152). Like Springfield, Kihn has recently traded his guitar jangle for the polished sheen of synthesizers. But rather than enliven his sound, they've enervated it. "Lucky," with its lush chorus, holds up fairly well, but most of the songs here are as limp as overcooked spaghetti.
THE ELVIS BROTHERS -- "Adventure Time" (Portrait BFR 39875). The name might scream "novelty act," but the truth of the matter is that the Elvis Brothers are the logical heirs to Nick Lowe's pure pop approach. From the droll word play of "Holy Moly" to the semi-soul of "Count to Three," the Elvis Brothers know how to make the most of musical mannerisms. But what lifts this album above mere smart-aleck pop is the way the songs insinuate themselves despite the melodic manipulation. A delightful diversion.