Their first recording in 18 years, Shoes' Ignition
reaffirms both their status as unsung heroes of American power-pop even as it confirms how willfully they've embraced their self-styled insularity over the years. This vibrant studio project is the work of musicians capitalizing on their chemistry.
Cascading group harmonies course through the inviting opening "Head vs. Heart," while chiming rhythm guitars and fills, twelve-string and otherwise, ripple during "The Joke's On You." The sound of Ignition
may be its greatest asset because the combination of instruments and voices is so marvelous to behold, but there is some emotional weight to these tunes, as on that latter track, not to mention a keen intelligence in lyrics like those to "Diminishing Returns." The brains at work there are also evident in the scrupulous craftsmanship of the recording.
As the material and the recording evolved from "Out of Round" and "Nobody to Blame," recording this album over a period of time dating back to 2010 actually maximized the reactivated synergy between the three Shoes principals. Bassist/vocalist John Murphy, guitarist/vocalist Jeff Murphy and guitarist/vocalist Gary Klebe bond here with drummer John Richardson, long-time accompanist of the likeminded pop-rocker Tommy Keene, thereby completing a four-way dynamic obvious on "Heaven Help Me." As a direct result of that alignment, Ignition displays little if any of the sterility that afflicted Shoes early records, including their major label releases on Elektra Records.
Spanning the decades of the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s, Shoes have become staunch standard bearers of a modern pop style. They transcend the danger of sounding dated throughout the alternately peppy ("Wrong Idea") and the palpably dirty ("Hot Mess") 15 tracks here, among which there are no weak cuts. Though there is no release of the album on vinyl, the compact disc package replicates the deluxe LP format of yore its gate-fold sleeve and a booklet containing all the lyrics and credits plus photos: it is emblematic of the way in which Shoes refuses to be stuck in time.
Just as this group helped usher in the DIY ethic of punk and New Wave movements, so they predated the independence of alternative artists that continues to this day: home studios like Shoes used for Ignition are now the rule rather than the exception. While the self-referential concluding cut, ”Only We Remain,” may not be wholly true –the aforementioned Keene not to mention Matthew Sweet remain genre loyalists as well—it does constitute a clear-headed (and clear sounding!) awareness of where the band resides amongst their peers and the musical landscape, in general, both past and present.