Man Of The Park
11 Track, LP (2012, Independent)
Related: Super Hooper.
Super Hooper does all the work for us. Us critics, that is. The bio for the project’s debut album not only explicitly cites influences, but even narrows them down to exact parts. And so we have “the swagger of Elvis with ’80s stadium-rock drums and 808 percussion” (‘Sour Love’), “straight-ahead Spector with a ‘Kokomo’-style sax solo” (title track) and “Edwyn Collins leading a gospel choir” (‘Combinations’).
What’s so interesting here is not just that prime mover Justin Hooper admits the sources of his inspiration so readily, but that Man of the Park so strongly inhabits them. This can feel as much like a compilation of bands as the work of a single one, so freely do genres come and go. Again in the bio, the album is called “an Identikit of favourite pop moments: like a version of sampling where the sampling is of genres rather than recorded music.” Which means pretty much anything is up for grabs.
Honestly, it shouldn’t work. It should come off like a series of novelty costume changes and stop at that. But between Hooper’s very real affection for everything he borrows – even the sax solos don’t feel ironic – and his breezy talent for singing and songwriting, he winds up sounding more like himself than his heroes. It helps that he has a crack team of collaborators, from multi-instrumentalist producer Tim Harvey to drummer Michael Iveson and brass arranger Tom Spender. The record was even mixed by Victor Van Vugt and mastered by Byron Scullin, each a handy sign of quality.
And while Hooper is restless throughout, the uniting force for Super Hooper is gushing, radiant, timeless pop. Even without its Beach Boys harmonies, opener ‘Longer Than I Planned’ would be a prime slice of jaunty power-pop. Nostalgia can be a cancerous thing for many artists, but in Hooper’s hands it’s contagious and effortless fun. He writes mini-sermons to summer and the radio (‘Bide Your Tide’) – which here feels like the AM gold of decades past, emitted from a convertible while cruising up and down the coastal highways of California – and adopts the kitschy innocence of Westernized samba (‘Interstate’) and calypso (‘In Kaleidoscope’).
It’s playful, definitely, but never at the price of a song. Every offbeat detail fits into each tune’s ultra-specific brief, whether the sudden early-rock guitar solo of ‘Sour Love’ or the psychedelic dampness of ‘Rousseau’s Jungle’. Besides, Hooper isn’t just isolating familiar sounds but combining them for unlikely results, as evidenced by the merger of curdled Ray Davies nonchalance and shadowy reggae undertones on ‘Wandiligong’. Formerly frontman of the Modular-signed Plug-In City, Hooper has always zigged and zagged between his disparate musical loves, but with Man of the Park he makes it feel totally natural.
by Doug Wallen