Dear 23 (DGC ’90) Rating: B
Led by John Leckie’s creamy production and the band’s bright, ‘60s derived pop sound (think The Hollies and The Beatles), Dear 23 was a fine showcase for The Posies accomplished songwriting, as well as for the sugary vocal harmonies of John Auer and Ken Stringfellow, who were seemingly born to sing together. This album contains mostly acoustic (or jangly electric) guitar-based songs that feature intelligent, poignant lyrics focusing on failed, regret-filled relationships. Auer and Stringfellow prettily sing sad and clever lyrics (“she left me alone, claiming we’d run out of things to fight about, I was crushed of course, but at least I’ve something I can write about”), and The Posies consistently deliver a pleasantly inviting sound. Lyrically the band is often spectacularly on the mark, and the album can be both touching/troubling (“and now you avoid parties, because they remind you, of someone who you used to know, pretty soon you’ll want to avoid yourself”), confused (“and when we finally fell apart, you were left holding the cart, though you thought I said I’d push it”) and funny (“loving she told me was a question of bravery, but when she started to hold me it was closer to slavery”). That said, musically speaking The Posies consistently well-crafted songs sometimes lapse into bland mediocrity, though "My Big Mouth" (jaunty and wordy but also memorable and melodic), "Golden Blunders" (which matches a pretty, tuneful melody to serious lyrics about the complications caused by a pregnancy), "Any Other Way" (another lovely number with stellar vocals), and the epic psychedelia of "Flood Of Sunshine" (an 8-minute finale that climaxes with a spectacular, soaring extended guitar solo) are among the band's very best songs. Still, though Dear 23 became a big hit with critics and is a consistent release with some notable highlights, much of its music lacks the punch of their next two albums, which feature a much heavier sonic onslaught.
Frosting On The Beater (DGC ’93) Rating: A-
Power pop with the emphasis on power, The Posies continue to wear their Hollies/Beatles/Big Star influences well, while bringing their sound into the ‘90s with Seattle-styled grunge guitars. Though they were among the countless bands to emerge from Seattle in the early ‘90s, The Posies were a stark contrast to their grungey colleagues. Instead of employing angst-ridden screeches atop walls of pulverizing feedback, The Posies entice listeners with charming melodies and dual-vocal sweetness, though their guitars could also carry a serious kick. As can always be counted on with The Posies, most of the songs here are well crafted, and Auer and Stringfellow’s vocal harmonies are highlights. Featuring a fantastic first half (easily the band’s best) and a solid but much less memorable second side (highlighted by “Earlier Than Expected” and “20 Questions”), catchy songs such as the rocking “Dream All Day” and the sweetly singable triumvirate of “Solar Sister,” “Flavor Of The Month,” and “Definite Door” proved that these guys could churn out instantly memorable hooks. However, the album’s best moment might be the epic “Burn & Shine,” on which the band’s dark side takes over during a powerful build-up that culminates with some explosive slash and burn guitar, pointing the way towards the even harder edged sound that the band would further explore on Amazing Disgrace.
Amazing Disgrace (DGC ’96) Rating: B+
After Frosting On The Beater, The Posies played an exhausting number of live gigs, while Auer and Stringfellow also participated in Big Star's much ballyhooed reunion gig. A heavier, more natural sound seems to have resulted, helped in part by the new rhythm section of bassist Joe Skyward and drummer Brian Young. The added weight is immediately apparent on “Daily Mutilation,” a muscular composition about a once-hopeful romance turned irredeemably sour. The introspective lyrics deal heavily with despair and isolation, and the often vitriolic vocals are borne out by song titles such as “Hate Song” and “Everybody Is A Fucking Liar,” as well as the “I don’t give a shit” sentiments of the stomping “Ontario.” Auer and Stringfellow again alternate vocals throughout the 14 tracks and combine for pristine harmonies on the choruses. A grungey guitar sound and tight arrangements make these songs crisp and strong, yet producers Nick Launay and (to a much lesser degree) Steve Fisk make sure that things don’t become bloated, recognizing that strength can often be demonstrated through simplicity. Amazing Disgrace boasts a healthy dose of hard charging rockers like “Fight It” and “Grant Hart” (a tribute to Husker Du’s underacknowledged "other songwriter"), but the band also proves adept at ballads such as the Hallmark-worthy “Precious Moments” and the psychedelic album closer (a la Dear 23) “Will You Ever Ease Your Mind?” None of these songs are drop dead great (“Throwaway” comes closest), and there are some throwaways (the aptly titled “Broken Record,” for example), but by and large Amazing Disgrace provided another aural treat that further distanced The Posies from the power pop pack. Alas, with the band embracing grungey guitars just as they were falling out of favor, Amazing Disgrace flopped commercially, and the band was dropped by DGC. After a low-key indie release in 1998, ironically titled Success (their first indie album, released in 1988, was ironically titled Failure, though I confess I've yet to hear either one), the band broke up, though they have since regrouped and released additional Posies albums as well as assorted solo projects.