The Connells: Fun & Games (1989)

While the Connells' 1985 debut was on the weaker side, lo-fi production and a band still trying to find their voice (with the exception of the stellar "1934"), 1987's Boylan Heights was a remarkable triumph of melodic, jangly pop music, and the one I've long considered their true debut.  Avoiding sophomore (or junior?) slump, the 1989 follow-up managed to be every bit as good, arguably better, with a fistful of terrific tracks and a little more muscularity in the music.

Opener "Something To Say" is a mid-tempo, radio-friendly tune with a catchy little chorus, the band giving the guitars a little more of a work-out than on the more understated Boylan Heights.  This is followed by the even better title track, which starts off with a pleasant enough jangle before the big, boomy reverb kicks in and then leads to the huge, sing-along chorus.  This song alone should have made them alternative rock heroes, rather than simply a great band that struggled to break through, but life is unkind that way.

There are plenty of other winners here.  "Hey Wow" is wonderful, a showpiece for Doug MacMillan's soaring vocals -- he rarely gets the credit he deserves, but stands as one of the best singers of the 80s college radio era -- with the chiming chorus and entrancing harmonies contrasting with the intriguing lyrics seemingly about a mental breakdown; and "Upside Down" is a more upbeat rocker yet still highly melodic. Lead guitarist George Huntley takes a few songwriting and lead vocal turns, delivering two of his best contributions to the band's discography with the charming, winning "Sal" and painfully infectious "Motel."  And "Ten Pins" has a hypnotic, slow build, with the swirling guitars calling to mind the Feelies.

This is another one of those albums you can play for people completely unfamiliar with the band, and they're pretty much guaranteed to be taken in by it.

Here's the video for "Something To Say":
Here's "Motel" set to some random film footage:
Here's a live take on the title track from a recent reunion gig:
...and "Hey Wow" from the same show:

 

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