May 12, 2021

PONY up to TV Baby


I don’t consider myself a music critic. Instead, I’m more of a aficionado who loves rock and pop so much that he wants to share what he hears with friends. As such, unless there is an extraordinary reason to keep people away from an album or song (such as the last Yes album) I try to keep it positive. I would rather tell my audience about something they will enjoy and why. Critics, on the other hand, need to keep churning out reviews. I imagine, they get bored with a lot of the music they listen to. It’s pretty obvious that critics tend to like something new, but not too new that it’s weird. Remember, critics hated Devo when they first came out and yet they are a cult classic to this day.

Critics also seem to look for deeper meaning or something overtly artistic. They are deeply disappointed when a piece of music doesn’t rise to that level of artistic importance. The tendency to overanalyze pop and rock is why reading reviews from critics can be a chore. Not every album or song is the pop or rock equivalent of Mozart or Bach. Most albums aren’t Disraeli Gears or Born to Run. Sometimes music is just fun, like The Go-Gos, or follows familiar but enjoyable patterns such as EDM. What got me thinking of all this was the reviews I saw of the latest album, TV Baby, by PONY. The criticism that really lodged in my craw was that “PONY is too stuck in the 90s”, as if that’s a bad thing. Yes, it’s 90s inspired power pop music. So, TV Baby is fun and accessible, right? Still looking for the negative here.

PONY can best be described as Mathew Sweet guitar chords meets Juliana Hatfield vocals. To me, that’s a winning combination. The leadoff single, “Chokecherry”, just rocks with jangly guitars, sweet lead vocals, and pop harmonies. They whole album is like that which makes it so much fun to listen to. There’s that word, fun, again. “WebMD”, has that frantic, nervous sound endemic to 90s alt rock, plus references to WebMD the medical website that emerged in that decade. So what? It’s a great sound. By the time you get to the middle of the album songs like “My Room” and “Sometime Later”, there is so much power pop goodness you just have to dance around the room.

The thing is, TV Baby sounds fresh. The 90s references sound more like an homage than a copy. In many ways, PONY is like Best Coast, especially the song “Feeling Ok”, than pure 90s power pop. Sure, the 90s influences are there but it’s still original. TV Baby is not a masterpiece of modern music. It won’t change the way we listen to music and it’s not an entirely new take on popular music like Billie Eilish’s When We Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? may well turn out to be. It’s fun power pop that plays well in the car on a summer day or at a party.

And maybe that’s why critics don’t like this album. They’ve forgotten what parties are and how it feels to drive in a car full of your buds, with the windows down on a warm summer evening and a night of partying ahead. Perhaps that just the results of the pandemic on some people. Maybe it’s a tendency of critics being older and looking back. I prefer to look ahead to the coming days, listening to PONY’s TV Baby with my friends and dancing with other humans.