The Moberlys' self-titled debut album was something of a lost new wave/post-punk classic, but little else was heard from them aside from the odd EP or 7" through the rest of their life span together. The subsequent lack of released material, however, wasn't from lack of recording, as the compilation Seattle-New York-Los Angeles (from French import Pop the Balloon) proves. The album represents a missing link of sorts, not only in the career of the Moberlys but also between the garage punk that roared out of Seattle in the 1960s, a main source of inspiration for the band, and the grunge that began to emerge in the city by the end of the band's career in the late '80s. It is a windfall of material, with 23 tracks clocking in at just over 70 minutes, almost all of it worthy of praise. The recordings span nearly a decade, the three cities of the disc's title, and two versions of the band, although the third and longest-standing unit recorded the majority of the music here. In all it is some of the rawest and most passionate new wave pop of the decade, with the melodic savvy of the Byrds and '70s power pop (the Raspberries, especially), the gutsy swagger of early Rolling Stones, the snotty attitude of punk, and the angst-laced neuroses of garage rock. The music also betrays a strong affinity for roots and country-rock. The guitars on "What I Wouldn't Do," "Alone With Her," and "Ain't It Funny" appropriate some of the twang of country, and "Ugly Side" is legitimate country-rock. The ballad "Lose Me" and the great "Elma," a slightly goofy countrified folk-rock ditty à la the Byrds' "Mr. Spaceman," also have a rural lope to them. The Byrds connection is particularly prominent. "Summertime Again" crosses that band's early sound with Buddy Holly-style vocal affectations, and "I Need Your Love" sounds like a garage band simulation of almost any song off Mr. Tambourine Man. The attitude, though, is pure punk through-and-through, experienced to best effect on the nervy "Love So True" and "The Rebel Kind," a cover of an obscure post-punk gem by the Modernettes. The rushed tempos of "Tonight" perfectly capture the band's teenager-in-heat melodrama, a consistent theme through most of the album. This is music every bit as good as the best alternative rock of the era. The outstanding "Rest Up," for example, produced by longtime Moberlys fan Peter Buck in 1987, sounds like a cross between early Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers and, unsurprisingly, early R.E.M., and it could easily have been some sort of hit single -- at the very least on college radio. Kudos go to the wonderful Pop the Balloon for lovingly documenting the nearly forgotten (in America, at least) legacy of the Moberlys. Unfortunately, material of this high quality (and, arguably, historical importance) has thus far resisted domestic release.
AllMusic Review by Stanton Swihart