Pop Manifesto

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Thirty years after Stephen Burns made his first bid for cult hero status with the Scruffs' debut album, Wanna Meet the Scruffs?, the man stubbornly refuses to give up the power pop ghost, and Pop Manifesto is the third Scruffs album since Burns decamped to Scotland in 1999 and assembled a new version of the band. Those who haven't checked in with Burns since checking out Wanna Meet the Scruffs? years ago may be a bit surprised with the group's latest work; in many respects, Pop Manifesto recalls Burns's short-lived Messenger 45 project, revealing a more baroque tone in the arrangements and a less aggressive attack than in the nervy tone of the group's early sides. The delicate piano, strings, and horn accents on "September's Lost" are a far cry from "You're No Fun," and "What Can I Do for You" almost makes the Left Banke sound like the Nerves. But Burns is still writing terrific songs with glorious melodies and superb hooks, which is the real link between this music and his past, and for good or ill he's still trying to figure out the opposite sex, as "There's a Girl I Know" and "She's Got It for You" amply demonstrate. "Situation Critical" shows he hasn't entirely let his more rollicking side go fallow, either. Pop Manifesto isn't quite the Scruffs as you remember them, but it's a fine and well-crafted visit to smart pop heaven that proves Stephen Burns isn't running out of interesting ideas.

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