Dear god, are we already celebrating the ten-year anniversary of Kurt Baker's Brand New Beat
? It seems like only yesterday that that album was released! I guess it's true that time flies when you're having fun! Brand New Beat
was an album of great importance to me and this blog. On the date I reviewed it, I had only been doing F & L for a little over a year. Baker became one of my go-to artists to write about and remains so to this day (by my count, this is the 27th time I've reviewed a title by him or one of his bands). I named Brand New Beat
my album of the year for 2012, and I now consider it a landmark of modern-day power pop. In commemoration of its ten-year anniversary, Wicked Cool Records has released Brand New Beat: Complete
, a two-disc set which includes the original 2012 album remixed and remastered along with the subsequent collection Brand New B-Sides
remastered with bonus tracks. While Brand New Beat
was not Baker's first LP, it was the first in the trilogy of albums he co-wrote with Wyatt Funderburk. Certainly I'm a huge Kurt Baker fan in general, but I have a special place in my heart for his collaborations with Funderburk and the rest of The Party Animals (Kris "Fingers" Rodgers on keyboards, Geoff Palmer on guitar, and Adam Cargin & Craig Sala on drums). So I was eager to put on Brand New Beat: Complete
and listen to all of these songs with fresh ears. I wondered about a couple things: (1) Would I still like this album as much a decade later? and (2) Would I be impressed enough by this reissue package to recommend you spend your money on it? The answers turned out to be yes and yes!
As I started to listen to Brand New Beat: Complete, a couple things came to mind. One was that it was always the nostalgia talking when I'd rank Brand New Beat as a cut above its two successors Play It Cool and After Party. I honestly think that Baker and Funderburk got better at their craft as they advanced through the trilogy. That said, my reacquaintance with Brand New Beat confirms what I've always believed: it is one of the greatest power pop albums of the 21st Century and clearly deserving of modern classic status. For anyone who's new to the music of Kurt Baker, this album remains the best place to start. It's a rocking power pop record with roots in pop-punk that exudes the "Have a good time all the time" spirit that has always been central to the Kurt Baker experience. With its mix of should-have-been radio hits ("Don't Go Falling In Love," "Everybody Knows"), party rock anthems ("Hit the Ground," "Weekend Girls"), and tearjerker love songs ("I Don't Wanna Cry," "How Many Times"), it checks off every box for a perfect power pop album. Ever the perfectionists, Baker and Funderburk limited the album to just the best ten songs out of the nearly 20 they'd recorded. They essentially left on the cutting room floor a whole other album -- which was released in 2014 as Brand New B-Sides.
Listening to Disc 2 of Brand New Beat: Complete, I still feel the same way as I did eight years ago: Baker and Funderburk had the right instincts on which songs to leave off of Brand New Beat, but even the leftovers from those sessions made for a very good album. The new wave power pop gem "Lost In Translation" seems the most questionable exclusion from the original album. "Quit Dancing With My Girl" hits the sweet spot where power pop and pop-punk intersect -- always a Baker/Funderburk specialty. "On the Run" is essentially the best song Thin Lizzy never wrote. "Think It Over" carries the early Elvis Costello leanings of Brand New Beat into the Get Happy!! era. "Christmas in the Sand," in my book, has risen to the level of a new holiday standard. The bonus material includes some top-tier odds and ends such as Baker's brilliant 2012 7" track "I Want You Around," the splendid Dan Vapid co-write "Keep Away," and a cool new wave-ish take on Costello's "High Fidelity." All in all, the drop-off from disc one to disc two is remarkably slight. How crazy talented do you have to be to have the luxury of leaving a song like "Emma Stone" off an album?
The obvious question is this: If you already own Brand New Beat and Brand New B-sides, why should you fork over your hard-earned cash for Brand New Beat: Complete? My answer is that it's a decade later, and a lot of you reading this today might not own either album. With the original CDs out of print, being able to snag them both in a single package with bonus material for $19.99 is a swell deal indeed. If you've come to discover Kurt Baker more recently through his stellar releases on Wicked Cool, this collection is the ideal introduction to his earlier solo work. Brand New Beat: Complete places Baker's prime "power pop era" in a larger context along side his later work with The Kurt Baker Combo and bands such as The Bullet Proof Lovers, The New Trocaderos, and The Gold. I usually dismiss ten-year anniversary reissues as being premature (kind of like ten-year high school reunions!), but I have to make an exception for Brand New Beat, one of my favorite albums of all-time. I'll be stoked to review it again in another ten years!