Ric Menck and Paul Chastain were an indie pop dynamic duo in the late '80s and early '90s. Their most popular incarnation was the long-running power pop band Velvet Crush, but before that group started up, they recorded plenty of gems together. They formed Choo Choo Train together, then Menck split off to release singles under the Springfields banner, while Chastain stuck with Choo Choo Train -- though they still worked together on both bands. Slumberland's Singles 1986-1991 gathers up all the songs the Springfields issued during that time and even sneaks in a Menck-written and -sung Choo Choo Train single. The songs are a mix of Menck originals and well-chosen covers that were released by important indie pop labels like Bus Stop, Sarah, Seminal Twang, and Summershine. The earliest single is the Choo Choo Train release, and it lays out the template in clear terms: very jangly guitars, powerful drums, swirling production, and Menck's sweet-as-lemonade vocals. "The Perfect Day" is punchy, candy-coated neo-psych, while "The Bicycle Song" is chiming pop not far from the nervy side of Let's Active. On these tracks Menck proves to be a brilliant drummer, skilled producer, and surprisingly effective singer -- all things that carry over to each Springfields single and come to full fruition on "Sunflower." It's a dreamy Menck-penned ballad with stop-start drumming, a swooning melody, and lovely vocal harmonies; co-released by Sarah and Bus Stop, it earned the band a Single of the Week in the NME. Elsewhere, Menck proves a crack hand at covers as he revels in the melancholy of the Hollies' "Clown," makes Primal Scream's "Tomorrow Ends Today" twice as cheerfully heartbroken, and turns the Pastels' "Million Tears" into a delightful knees-up. His friendship with Matthew Sweet gave him first crack at Sweet's unused demos, and he plucked the beautiful strum pop ballad "Are We Gonna Be Alright?" out of the pile and turned it into gold. As already evidenced decisively by "Sunflower," Menck's originals don't wilt when placed next to the covers; his ballads are powerfully melancholy ("She Swirls Around Me") and his up-tempo songs are first-rate jangle pop ("Wonder"). The Chastain co-write "Reachin for the Stars" points the way to the more rocked-out sounds of Velvet Crush and was the last song the duo wrote in their twee pop, fooling around and releasing small singles era. Hearing that song, and the rest of the set, it's not hard to wish that Menck had stuck to the Springfields a bit longer. There's something simple and true about these songs that transmits Menck's love of classic indie pop in truly joyous fashion and it's nice that Slumberland has made them available again. They were out before as the main part of The Ballad of Ric Menck compilation -- which was released by Summershine and then Menck's own Action Musik -- and if you don't have those, get them here because this music is an essential part of any indie pop fan's collection.
AllMusic Review by Tim Sendra