Back in 2002, Butch Walker made a record for Arista that placed him somewhere between '80s solo troubadours like Rick Springfield and the distortion crackle of fin de siècle alterna-rock. Walker's a talented songwriter, so he largely pulled it off. Still, it did seem kinda forced, and the thing quickly disappeared. Walker's resurfaced in 2004 on Sony, and this time around things are much more comfy. From its handwritten liners to the obvious care with which its tracks were assembled in the studio, Letters feels like a direct communication from Butch's big Rundgren and Cheap Trick-lovin' brain. Like Pete Yorn, he draws ably on the mustache rock of his youth to make this music stand out in the present -- check the clever lyrics and subtle synth processing of "Mixtape" to hear what '70s pop sounds like in a 21st century light. "#1 Summer Jam"'s cheeky power pop has a definite (and welcome) ELO quality, and "Don't Move" figures out how to cross Radiohead with creepy old 10cc. He fits in some ballads ("Best Thing You Never Had"), exuberantly cynical rockers (the anti-L.A. rant "Lights Out"), and gorgeous, vibe-toned dusk pop -- is that the ghost of a young Jackson Browne floating through "So at Last"? There's no theft here. Rather, Walker sounds like a music fan given a golden opportunity to make a private gatefold masterpiece. Sure, "Mixtape" and "Summer Jam" can and should be hits. But it's likely true that Walker doesn't care if they are. Letters' ending proves this. "Promise" is a syrupy, achy, even funny little love song done up in drippy reverb and plaintive acoustic strum, while "Thank You Note" is just Butch and a piano and a strikingly personal tribute to a fallen friend. These quieter songs ground the album's more colorful moments; they help create the cycle that's so often missing from records these days. Walker's made an album for all the mornings after.
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AllMusic Review by Johnny Loftus