20/20/Look Out!

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In the late 1970s and early ‘80s, you couldn't throw a skinny tie in Los Angeles without hitting a power pop band; in the wake of the Knack's brief but seismic commercial breakthrough, it seemed like every careerist rock dude on the West Coast got a haircut, put on a crooked smile, tried to write some killer hooks, and aspired to make a fast fortune like Doug Feiger. Most L.A. pop bands of the era sounded almost painfully calculated, but 20/20 was different; founders Steve Allen and Ron Flynt were Oklahoma boys who loved classic British Invasion pop and heard the same call of the electric guitar that guided fellow Tulsa native Dwight Twilley, and like Twilley, they moved to Los Angeles to form a band and make it big. But Allen and Flynt had sharper tastes than most of their peers, and while 20/20 had killer hooks and plenty of tuneful energy, their music was a bit more angular and far more melodically surprising than most of their peers on the L.A. scene, reinforced by the band's strong songwriting skills, superb harmonies, and gift for lyrical twists and turns. 20/20 developed a loyal following in Los Angeles and scored a record deal with Epic Records subsidiary Portrait Records, for whom they cut two major-label albums that are still revered by pop obsessives but never came close to becoming hits. After years out of print, Real Gone Records has reissued 20/20's two Portrait LPs on one CD in this outstanding package. The 1979 debut 20/20 is a front-to-back winner, delivering brilliant idiosyncratic pop ("Yellow Pills" is a masterpiece even if the lyrics prevented it from ever becoming a hit single), revved-up rock ("Tonight We Fly"), hooky almost-punk ("Backyard Guys"), and fine mood pieces ("Tell Me Why"). More than any other band of the day, 20/20 recalled the Shoes in their superb songcraft and ear for studio craft, but good as they were, the boys from Zion, Illinois never delivered an album as energetic and joyous as 20/20. 1981's Look Out! was a disappointment only compared to the debut; the production is less sympathetic, the songs lost a bit of their melodic edge, and the closing synth pop experiment, "American Dream," is something of a botch, but the band still sounds great and the best tunes show 20/20 had plenty more to offer. For this edition, Real Gone has remastered both albums in full, as well as including two rare, non-LP B-sides ("Childs Play" and "People in Your Life") and a liner essay which presents a concise history of the band, including comments from most of the bandmembers. With the exception of the Plimsouls and the Beat, 20/20 were the best and most interesting band to emerge from the L.A. power pop boom, and anyone who wants to hear them in their prime should waste no time picking up this disc, filled with 79 minutes of smart, hooky bliss.

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