Scruffs

Wanna Meet the Scruffs?

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Power pop bands who worship at the altar of Big Star are a dime a dozen today, but the Scruffs were doing that long before Alex Chilton became a cool name to drop, and Wanna Meet the Scruffs?, the sole album they released during their lifetime, is that late-'70s rarity, a slice of classic power pop that doesn't sound "new wave," unlike most of smart pop's class of 1978. Using Big Star and the Raspberries as a starting point, vocalist and songwriter Stephen Burns blended an Anglophile's sense of melody with a very American feel for crunchy guitars and the occasional power chord. And Burns' songs about dreams of rock stardom ("Break the Ice"), his vast array of romantic problems ("My Mind"), and his multitude of other anxieties ("I'm a Failure") suggests the neurosis of the early Modern Lovers sides without Jonathan Richman's willful childishness; in a genre where aggressive cheerfulness or good-natured arrogance were the order of the day, Burns' intelligent angst was something new and distinctive. And the band, anchored by David Branyan's tough, concise guitar leads, made music that was bright and hooky but still had backbone and plenty of punch; this is pop that earns the prefix "power." That so strong an album could slip though the cracks is both sad and puzzling, but the 1997 CD reissue of Wanna Meet the Scruffs? (augmented with two bonus demo tracks) thankfully restores a lost classic to circulation, and anyone who loves a good hook with an interesting idea behind it ought to seek this out.

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