New Wave before New Wave had really solidified. Sort of like Springsteen, but sort of not. Perhaps it’s most accurately described as an offering to bridge the Billy Joel-ers and the Rundgren-ites, a union which sounds fairly unappetizing. Big noses, effeminate hair, and lots of bland pontificating in obnoxious Long Island accents. I don’t much like this image either.
Maybe a better comparison would be to the Boomtown Rats, who have a similarly clear-riff based Springsteen-like sound with lots of sneering. And unlike the Boomtown Rats, who certainly had their moments (mostly the hits), Jules and the Polar Bears maintain a pretty consistent quality standard throughout the album, the only notable outlier being “You Just Don’t Wanna Know”, a single which should have been a major major hit… if not for God hating Jules Shear for some reason. Or maybe the American record buying public thought Shear looked like that guy who owed them $20 or something. Anyway, it’s damn catchy, has an agreeably nasal white-boy swagger, and is just one of many delights on one of the few power pop albums of the ’70s you could put on for musically unadventurous parents and relatives, who’d be happy enough hearing “You Just Don’t Wanna Know” and saying repeatedly “Wow! This really sounds like that one band I heard on the radio that one time back when I was in college and it didn’t hurt to urinate! Put it on again!”
The imagery acquits itself, and despite the songs not really having much of a point, or Shear being any especially deep artist, it doesn’t make one want to take daggers to one’s eyes to lament humanity’s blindness; it’s a feeling I’ve had upon listening to several Billy Joel songs, especially “It’s My Life”. That this gesture is plagiarized from Greek tragedy seems an appropriate response to the plagiarized gestures and emotions of what composes classic rock radio. The Polar Bears, having not been overplayed, stand at that inherent advantaged of the disadvantaged record, and reminds me of younger more innocent days when I’d just figured out there was this thing called pop music, and it could enter you and make you mutter things you didn’t really feel under your breath, and annoy your parents by obsessively playing the same song over and over, and annoy your friends by rhapsodizing about Fountains of Wayne when they actually thought Green Day were the greatest thing since sliced bread,and you spoke in inherited cliches like “greatest thing since sliced bread” then too, you obnoxious twat. You bought CDs shrink-wrapped with stickers, unsure what constituted cultural value, the area beside your bed a buildup of Ray Stevens discs titled something like Greatest Hits or whatever. Who cares? That metaphorically tied itself to the mold in that cup your mother told you to wash out, but whatever. Fuck her. She listens to Yanni, and isn’t it just going to get dirty again anyway?
I was an awful child. I think we all were at 12 years old.
But, as something for a 12-year-old to emphatically and dimly feel snotty toward, you could do a hell of a lot worse. Compare these two hypothetical internal monologues:
Monologue A: “Wave your hands in the air if you just don’t care!” I don’t care! How did they know me so well?
Monologue B: “You’re so in love with your rent-a-car!” Yeah! You are too in love with your damn rent-a-car! Fuck you rent-a-car renting son of a bitch!
I don’t have to flesh out the endearing derangement that nudges B past the drab vacuity of A.
Anyway, Jules Shear is a talented guy, with a bunch of catchy songs. The record has a crunch guitar sound which instantly hooks you in, and may or may not bring up fond memories which may or may not actually be loaded with landmines. It has lyrics which you may find clever, but puts in genuine efforts not to be irritating. As the holiday season approaches, consider this an acceptable compromise, and have it holstered.
RIYL: Bruce Springsteen, The Boomtown Rats, Todd Rundgren, The Raspberries, Badfinger, Pilot, Pezband