It seems in some ways that the Spongetones have always been around, and while they're no Flamin' Groovies on the longevity front, this 26-track anthology covering their first 25 years as a power pop mainstay does make plain their talents. Unfortunately, it also exposes the limitations that have always kept them from attracting more than a small but devoted cult audience of hardcore power pop fetishists. The Spongetones, a quartet from Charlotte, NC who impressively have maintained the same lineup ever since guitarist and primary singer/songwriter Jamie Hoover joined a nascent version of the band in 1978, started out as unapologetic British Invasion fans in the style of the Sire Records-era Flamin' Groovies. The first eight tracks here, from the first two albums Beat Music and Torn Apart (since 1994 yoked together as the CD Beat & Torn), aren't "updated" or "revisionist" British Invasion-style tunes, they're the real thing two decades too late. That purist aesthetic was dropped with 1987's Where-Ever-Land, which introduced synths and all the bad production elements (too much reverb on the drums, that sort of thing) that marred so many albums in the latter half of the '80s, and shifted the Spongetones over into Marshall Crenshaw territory. Musically speaking, that's basically where they've remained ever since, so the last two-thirds of this compilation fall into a bit of a rut in terms of songwriting and performance. (In their favor, however, the production got a lot better after the misguided modernisms of Where-Ever-Land.) Hoover and his bandmates are undeniably talented at what they do, but listening to this lengthy summation of their first quarter century shows how little the band has progressed as songwriters during this period. Not in the sense that bands should necessarily get more complex or move away from the sounds that initially inspired them, mind, but in the sense that the Spongetones have got the power pop sound down cold but have never been first-rank songwriters on the level of, say, Pat DiNizio of the Smithereens or Chris Stamey and Peter Holsapple of the dB's, to name two of their contemporaries. There's not a "Shake Some Action," a "Cynical Girl," or a "Places That Are Gone" in these 26 tracks, a crowning, singular achievement amongst all the clever songcraft. Of course, not everyone can be the Beatles, and as Always Carry On: The Best of the Spongetones 1980-2005 proves, there's something to be said for being the Dave Clark 5.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Stewart Mason