Amoeba Teen's shimmering brand of guitar pop, originally inspired by bands like Teenage Fanclub and Jelly fish, was founded by Mark Britton and Mike Turner as far back as the 90s. Their history from that time has been patchy, at times dark, but since their full reformation in 2016 the foursome of Britton, Turner, bassist Simon Muttitt and drummer Carl Baylis has been prolific, performing at the Pop Overthrow Festival and supporting King Pleasure and the Biscuit Boys after winning a BBC Radio contest.
Now they have two albums on the massively pro-active power-pop label Big Stir Records based in California, Medium Wave (2019) and this new self-titled release. It is an album fizzing with energy, recorded in the studio as live and produced by Sean Lloyd and George Shilling (Teenage Fanclub, Primal Scream). Themes of ageing, lockdown paranoia and the modern world are intertwined with a straight forward musical integrity, towards the art-rock and glam end of the power pop spectrum, but fused with melody and harmony from classic rock: West Midlands meets West Coast. That light and energy can be seen in the pastel shades of the cover, painted by Muttitt. Part of the album's theme is clearly influenced by the breakdown of Britton's marriage, along with the pain of isolation we have all felt in recent years, but the album still fizzes with invention, including one track apparently devised using artificial intelligence (we have to guess which one).
First track Mainstream throws obvious influences into the mixer straight away, a psychedelic opening referencing the Beatles and the Floyd, running into a glam rock fling out of the ELO playbook, sounding like something Pugwash might record, with quirky lyrics such as "she likes it kooky in the back of her Suzuki", in a song about partying.
Just Not That into You is the dark stripe in that pastel cover, the story of a girl's downfall with a man who "loved you as hard as he could bruise you", marrying the catchiness of Fountains of Wayne or Blink 182 with the type of kitchen sink drama you'd expect from Chris Difford, whether you can accept this dissonance will probably decide whether you "get" the type of music Amoeba Teen deliver, and I for one prefer a bit of chiaroscuro. Similarly the new wave, Cars tinged New Material World sings about getaway drives and knocking down walls, but like the rest of the album was written and recorded amidst Covid lockdowns and restrictions on movement. A Good Reason Why is a song of regret and ageing, asking why we "choose to stay another day together, to hurt each other", to a summery backing with 60s pop progressions, reminiscent of World Party. January is also regretful, the once loved and the always lost colliding in that worst of months in a country tinged ballad that is nevertheless hook laden.
Barlight Crawl drives us through the life of someone trying to live the fast life when around them people age and change. Melody Told You is a brief psychedelic look at platonic love and the illusion of self-improvement, to a tune something like Brainiac's Daughter from our friends the Dukes of Stratosphear. Monica Wakes Up would be my guess at the AI effort, mixing various themes from lyrics from the album in a grammatical but inhuman way: "Wheeling around like a button inside", "Harmony stay tough, Motioning plastic electrical goods"... if it isn't the AI effort then it's just incomprehensible. Putting the Kids Through College is a potentially melancholy ballad describing the middle age dread of falling behind your kids in terms of knowledge, destitute for the cost of their university course and living with the fear of losing your children to the world: "You talk in zeros and one, For fear of falling behind, I’m a citizen counting the time". But the melancholy is outweighed by humorous touches, for instance in detailing the bafflement of parents: "You won a scholarship for overseas, Your overflowing backpack is home to Schrodinger’s cat". The finale King of the Cut is clearly inspired by indie of their earliest period, Teenage Fanclub and BMX Bandits, a glam tinged rocker which stomps out the anger and regret at lost times which is emblematic of the album.
Whilst there may be nothing original in the themes of the album, or the musical modes the sentiments are expressed in, there are hooks galore here, great guitar work and excellent and funny lyrics which take me back to an indie era past, and to the glories of bands like Teenage Fanclub, Big Star and The Loud Family. As modern power and glam rock, it is exemplary, and will surely rock even more when seen live.