(feat. track – “Fuel To The Fire”)

I know I’ve said it here a couple times before, but I’m convinced there’s something in the sparse water of Arizona that nurtures perfect pop.  From the homespun heartache and subtle twang of the Gin Blossoms and the Refreshments in the 90s, to the sweetness of Jimmy Eat World and quirky charm of The Format at the turn of the century, to the thriving vital now of The Summer Set and Anarbor and This Century, bands from AZ consistently churn out hooks that shine as bright as the desert sun.  And none are doing it better right now than The Maine.

In a genre that’s been frequently tagged with the “power pop” label more for the lack of a better appellation than for any real connection to groups like Big Star or The Raspberries, The Maine are the real deal.  It’s impossible not to hear the echos of the best of the Goo Goo Dolls, Fastball, and the aforementioned Gin Blossoms throughout “Black And White.”  It’s an album that’s instantly familiar, yet it has its own discrete charms, particularly John O’Callaghan’s distinctive vocals, which draw from the rasp of Everclear’s Art Alexakis and the phrasing of Jakob Dylan, with an impossible-to-pin-down accent that turns a’s into o’s and o’s into a’s and makes r’s disappear entirely.

“Black And White” has been billed as a more “mature” album than The Maine’s previous work. That’s not quite right; if 2008’s “Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop” was The Maine as a seriously gifted child, “Black And White” captures the band in the throes of their musical adolescence, growing but not yet grown. There’s clearly a conscious effort to integrate 40 years of pop-rock inspiration into their music as they seek out their own page in the history book, and if those attempts occasionally amount to aping, well at least they’re pulling from some of the best.  “Growing Up” at times recalls Bob Seger’s “Like A Rock;” “Fuel To The Fire” bites its style from the mosey of Joe Jackson’s “Is She Really Going Out With Him” and The Cars’ “My Best Friend’s Girl”.

In “Black And White,” The Maine have clearly begun to stretch their wings and their chops, and in the process of finding themselves, they’ve lost themselves a little.  That the resulting album is so good despite is a testament to the band’s inestimable songwriting talents. They’re clearly working hard, but it’s that unsupressable natural talent that ultimately shines.  Or maybe it is just something in the water.