Cult albums are often a bit of a double-pronged fork: they're often "cult" because of elitist music fans or because the music is just so good that even if it's unreleased -- or only released in, say, Japan -- it manages to strike a chord with just the right audience. Powerbill, the 1993 debut (and only album from) Nashville popsters the Semantics, falls squarely into the latter category. The talent that existed in this band is undeniable; they were fronted by future solo artists Will Owsley and Millard Powers; featured Ringo Starr's son, Zak Starkey, on drums; and counted Ben Folds as an early member. That's part of the reason why this is 35 minutes of some of the most perfect power pop of the '90s. Right out of the gate, the opening duo of "Sticks and Stones" and "Future for You" leap off the speakers and crackle with more energy and "whoa-ohs" than should be allowed, and the pace barely slows throughout. Sonically, the connections to both the aforementioned Ben Folds and the first solo Owsley album are especially undeniable. Despite its merits, Powerbill is not exactly groundbreaking music, but that's not what power pop is about anyway: it is about well-crafted, catchy songs, and based on those criteria, Powerbill is an unquestionable success. But even if Powerbill is an excellent bite-sized chunk of radio-ready guitar pop, Geffen apparently didn't think so when they rejected it in 1993. At a time when grunge ruled the airwaves, the Semantics were probably too pop for alternative and too rock for pop radio, and Geffen felt they were unmarketable. At the last minute, the album's release was scrapped, effectively ending the band's career. Powerbill only saw the light of day three years later -- in Japan -- where it was a moderate commercial success.
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AllMusic Review by Jason Damas