…however you want to describe this music, it most certainly is not bad pop.
Those of us who are fans of prog rock or metal have an extensive market to choose from but when it comes to the world of mainstream pop the choice becomes vast, seemingly limitless, and the differentiation between contenders is often slight. Despite everything being at our fingertips on streaming services, finding something new worth listening to is difficult – which is why many of us probably don’t try – but this six-track EP from Canadian outfit Bad Pop is the proverbial needle in a haystack with its mix of punk, glam, art rock, and even a touch of space rock (I’ll come back to that later). Leader of the band is Chris Connelly, who initially put together a band called Hot Panda back in 2006. For those of you thinking that Connelly was fascinated with the sex habits of Chinese bears, the name rather more mundanely derives from his local Chinese restaurant at the time! The band was moderately successful releasing four albums, the last of which was called Bad Pop, released in 2016. A year later they slightly confusingly changed name to Bad Pop. Their one eponymously titled album was re-released earlier this year (I don’t know if that is the same material as the Hot Panda release or new songs) and now hot on its tail is this new six-track EP. As well as Connelly on vocals and guitar, the group currently consists of Catherine Hilts on bass, Aaron Klassen on drums and Devon Lougheed on ‘everything else’, but for this EP Connelly and Lougheed play all the instruments (due to the constraints of Covid-19, I guess).
The band have been somewhat casually labelled as punk, and while there are indeed some punk elements to their sound, they certainly have a much richer set of influences than that, as demonstrated by the variety within the six songs on this EP. The first track, Destructo, opens with a jaunty theme, not too far from Depeche Mode’s Personal Jesus, and that is interleaved with a vocal section that reminded me of T. Rex’s Get it On. If you are familiar with those two songs then you might think that this sounds like an odd mix, but along with a very catchy chorus line it all works remarkably well together. You’ll Be Fine, which has been released as a single, is a fast punkish affair, more in the style of The Jam than any hardcore punk mind you. The way the guitar simply follows the melody in the chorus is effective and despite it being a structurally straight forward song, it is one of those that is infectiously cheerful, and it will leave a smile on your face. Well, unless you are paying attention to the lyrics that is, because the optimism of youth falls apart by the end of the song.
Heartache On The Reddit Boards is another lyrically interesting song. Connelly neatly describes the song as being about ‘a young, entitled artist who feels like they’re special and deserving of success. Is desperate for it. They’ll dabble in cringe worthy earnestness, jaded cynicism, it doesn’t matter, whatever gets the most likes. It’s about this vapid, perception based, internet culture and the art that comes from that’. Musically, you could describe it as a ballad – with a fine vocal performance from Connelly who reflects the hope of the main character with a warm vocal delivery that reminded me of the Korgis (how many singers can go from punk in one song to the Korgis in the next!), even if lyrics such as ‘Seems the world is for the taking but no-one’s listening, no-one’s listening’ tell the real tale. It was originally written as an acoustic track but here dark fuzzy guitars give it a menacing feel. Oh, and rather strangely there’s a solo played on a hand saw (you have to listen carefully to pick it up!).
The next track, Grey Area, is very different again with sharp jagged guitar chords and robotic vocals. Twice a very impressive prog-like Moog theme over heavy chords bursts in, reminding me of Roxy Music in their prime (before they turned into a bad pop act, dare I say?). This is followed by the punkish Mouth Love, perhaps the only track here lacking a touch of originality, even if it has a good chorus and there’s another impressive vocal performance from Connelly. He certainly seems to be able to turn his voice to any style. The EP closes with the oddly titled Burn EMI which musically I’d have to classify as space rock because it is based around a chugging guitar riff which is distinctly similar to Hawkwind’s Magnu. It even has the sort of chaotic middle section that is the trademark of Brock and the boys. Whether the song is a tongue-in-cheek tribute to the veteran space rockers, I don’t know, but it works well anyway! These six tracks seem to cover almost every musical style except dark metal so the album title (and cover) may be a bit of a joke too, just like the band’s name actually – because however you want to describe this music, it most certainly is not bad pop.