The 77s

Sticks and Stones

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What is most remarkable about Sticks and Stones, far and away the strongest record The 77's ever produced, is that it is essentially a compilation of rejects. Though it is comprised entirely of aborted singles and stray studio recordings, Sticks and Stones is as masterful and fluid as any proper album. From the clattering, rambunctious opener "MT" to the stark, harrowing "God Sends Quails," The 77's combine elements of classic pop and obstinate new wave around Michael Roe's aching tenor and desperate lyrics. The anthemic tendencies that upstaged the songwriting on The 77's are here reined in and controlled, leaving large, open spaces for Roe and Mark Tootle to flood with melody. "Don't, This Way," a haunting contemplation of mortality, is carried along on a single, sorrowful guitar line. "Nowhere Else" is a dazzling pop number buttressed by the Shirelles-like backing vocals of the Nurk Sisters. But perhaps the record's most trenchant, compelling feature is the way that Roe's longtime preoccupation with human failure here gives way to a naked yearning for love. Having spent the bulk of The 77's in remorse, Roe turns Sticks and Stones into a plea for compassion, pleading at one point to "release the past" lest it pollute the future. Though they were culled from disparate sources, the songs on Sticks and Stones together form a compelling portrait of sorrow and renewal, as affecting as it is timeless.

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