Friday, May 15, 2020

The Vapors - Together

Well today is the day! After 39 years, The Vapors finally deliver a follow-up to their most recent album Magnets. Although Together probably sounds more like a follow-up to the band's 1980 debut New Clear Days - which I've declared on many occasions to be my favorite album of all-time.

For decades I had made peace with the reality that The Vapors were gone forever and would never make music again. Then the band reunited a few years back, and I started allowing myself to hope that new material was forthcoming. Of course I would have been disappointed if they'd made a new record and it wasn't very good. But come on: this is The Vapors! I had faith that whatever they did, it was going to be great. And today I can confirm that it most definitely is! Together is not just an "okay" effort from a legendary band. This album finds The Vapors emerging from a nearly four-decade hiatus and sounding like they'd never been gone. It rivals the band's best work, and it rivals the best of today's power pop and rock.

Based on the formidable opening 1-2 punch of the title track and "Crazy", you might surmise that Together is going to be a satisfying replay of New Clear Days. But it turns out to be something far better. Together takes everything you loved about The Vapors and brings it fully into the 21st Century. It definitely sounds like The Vapors, and David Fenton's style as a vocalist and songwriter is immediately recognizable. His lyrics are as clever and full of substance as ever. And his knack for turning out brilliant hooks is in peak form. Together, according to Fenton, is full of "pop songs about war, famine, suicide, mental health, dementia and having fun". Yes, indeed: that's vintage Vapors! But you would certainly expect a great deal of growth after 39 years, and Fenton is clearly not stuck in '80s mode. Veteran producer Steve Levine does a wonderful job of making this album sound modern while still retaining touches of that classic new wave feel. Fenton, as always, excels at writing very serious songs that are somehow totally enjoyable to listen to. Whether the scope is personal ("I Don't Remember") or global ("Real Time"), he writes with a heart and humanity that are much needed in today's music and today's world. "Real Time" is a particular highlight - a beautifully crafted call for compassion that puts a fresh twist on the socially conscious pop music of The Vapors' heyday. It's the first in a string of three songs ("Girl From The Factory" and "I Don't Remember" are the other two) that will absolutely tear your heart out. "Letter To Hiro (No11)" is the rare sequel that's just as good as the original - another powerful reflection on the human cost of war. If you can stomach a devastating breakup song on top of all of that, "Those Tears" is quite magnificent.

It's hard for me to imagine The Vapors making a better comeback album than Together. It's reminiscent enough of the old days to satisfy diehard fans, but it's by no means an exercise in nostalgia. Sometimes when these old bands get back together, you just hope they don't tarnish their legacy. But The Vapors are still busy adding to theirs. "Wonderland" and "Nuclear Nights" (get it?) are exactly the types of songs you would have hoped for from an older, wiser version of The Vapors. And then there are the unexpected pleasures. With its solemn, dramatic melodies, "Sundown River" has the timeless feel of a folk ballad. In a far different vein, "King L" finds the band letting loose and rocking out like never before. With three-quarters of the original lineup in tow (plus terrific veteran drummer Michael Bowes and Fenton's son Dan), this a a full-fledged return of one of the greatest new wave/power pop bands ever. Together proves that the music of The Vapors transcends era. This album isn't "retro" - it's just fantastic pop music, period. I always admired this band for calling it quits when it didn't feel right anymore and never reuniting just for a payday. But when the time came to get the band back together for the right reasons, the old magic was still there. I've given up ranting about how underrated of a songwriter David Fenton is. Just listen to this album and find out for yourself. This is a brighter world when The Vapors are in it!

Together is out today via Absolute Label Services. You can listen now on Spotify or order a physical copy here!



DiggityDawg said...

I didn't think I could get more excited for this record, but it turns out I was wrong! Still waiting on my copy to arrive from the UK, but I've listened to the 2 teaser songs & LOVE 'em.

Scott Milner said...

I’ve listened to this album over 20 times in two days! I’m as excited about this album as I was when I bought NCD 40 years ago. It is all brand new, but at the same time, very familiar! It’s absolutely brilliant in every way! Cheers to Dave Fenton and company for bringing us what we always hoped for! A perfect Vapors album! Enjoy!

Unknown said...

The album transported me back to my late teens with energetic beat & bouncy rhythm, but the skilled Dave Fenton lyrics oh so cleverly balanced my life experiences with the innocent enthusiasm of my youth. Like many, I specifically relate to the lyrics & it’s refreshing to be able to play & replay tracks catching new twists and stirring contemplative reflections. Can’t wait to catch the band on tour and bop around the dance floor, thanks Vapors for this gem of an album.

Unknown said...

Unadulterated joy.
Thank you.