If “King Louie” Bankston isn’t the greatest songwriter in contemporary rock and roll, he’s at least in the conversation. Needless to say, I was stoked to hear that this titan of the underground (Persuaders, Royal Pendletons, Bad Times, Exploding Hearts) had started a “power pop” band. I love Louie, and I love power pop. The Missing Monuments could not miss, right? Right! But perhaps what’s most endearing about debut album Painted White is that it’s far from typical power pop. Louie couldn’t make a generic sounding album even if he tried. He’s just too much of a unique guy, and that always comes out in his music. If you’d expect a King Louie power pop album to sound more like rootsy rock and roll, you’d be right!
So I’m not going to say Painted White is better than Memphis Treet, Louie’s 2007 LP with the Loose Diamonds. But that’s hardly a dis. “Gypsy Switch” is my single favorite song of the last 10 years, and Memphis Treet makes my list of the ten greatest albums issued in the 2000s. It’s far too soon to be similarly touting Painted White. That said, Painted White is freaking great and will no doubt merit album of the year consideration. Backing Louie are the incredible lead guitarist Julien Fried and a rhythm section comprised of bassist Bennett Bartley and drummer Aaron Hill. So while the Missing Monuments may be a power pop group from a songwriting standpoint, musically they’re the hottest bar band this side of the
. And that combination is what’s too often missing from so-called “power” pop. Opening track “The Girl of the Nite”, so catchy and sugary sweet that it wouldn’t sound out of place on a Teenline comp, is the only song on the album lacking a rock and roll feel. And while it is a perfect pop song, it kind of pales in comparison to “It’s Like XTC” and “Victory Lap”, which bring the same level of catchiness but with way more power. And if power did not matter, we would all be listening to Barry Manilow. Mississippi
Regardless of which genre of music he’s working in, Louie Bankston is a soul singer. And he’s not just a soul singer – he’s a great soul singer! He has that great, gruff voice that makes him sound like he’s been drinking and smoking since birth, and every last note is conveyed with feeling. You can talk all you want about the hooks (which are abundant) and the melodies (which are more infectious than chlamydia on a college campus), but ultimately Louie’s voice and lyrics are what take Painted White to the top. I mean, if you’re gonna sing a power pop love song, why not sing one like “Victory Lap” that’s full of honest-to-goodness pain? And while more than a couple songs here tip the cap to Louie’s buddy Paul Collins, variety prevails in the end. “Dance All Nite” and “Nite Fall” are ‘50s flavored slow dance jams, while the mega-awesome “Broken Hands” reminds me of really poppy ‘70s arena rock. “Hot Class” is pure greasy fun. This is just a good old rock and roll record – something you rarely hear these days. For sure, you’d don’t put together a band like the Missing Monuments and then squander all those rock and roll chops on wimpy bubblegum pop. Maybe some people will wish there were more songs like “The Girl of the Nite”, but I for glad the Missing Monuments are closer to the Compulsive Gamblers than they are to Milk ‘N’ Cookies. Bet you never thought I’d say that, eh?