Searching For Utopia

by Ralph Traitor, Sounds (UK), July 8, 1989

'Consciousness Raising As A Social Tool'. 'Tree of Knowledge'. 'Killed By Love'. Adult titles, no?

So it's fitting that the combo that sing them have made their most enduring market dent so far with a modest hit called 'I'm An Adult Now'.

It's a song that chronicles one man's belated awakening to his own morality.

Pursuit of Happiness, a Canadian fivesome currently infiltrating American backwaters and big cities, write songs and they a) rock, b) ain't stupid and c) do everything pop should.

Mo (sic) Berg, POH's lead guitarist and songwriter, is the mastermind behind the above jingles, as well as other more conventional 'Love Junk' (the title of their debut Chrysalis album) like last week's Single of the Week, 'She's So Young' and 'Looking For Girls'.

But how does a thinking man's popster churn out so many divinely disposable songs?

Berg, whom I trapped in a Florida hotel room after a string of weird college dates, would only say, "I work really hard on my lyrics. I'm not a guy who just pounds out a riff and says, That's it! And I believe in a sense of humour in songs."

Berg's chief influences are as arcane as they are unfashionable, numbering submerged 'power pop' hulks such as The Raspberries, Badfinger and Todd Rundgren.

Rundgren produced 'Love Junk', but despite his faith in the power pop genre and Rundgren's excellent skills, Berg takes nothing for granted.

"It's hard to describe what bands like The Raspberries had, and even harder to describe what they sounded like to people who haven't heard them. Or why they failed!

"I'm not sure if our sound would work or not. There's not a lot of it out there - a real pop sensibility, I mean."

The Raspberries - American one-hit wonders of the mid-'70's - were a lot like POH, from their conscious integration of major pop elements, notably The Beatles and Beach Boys, down to their effortless delivery of same.

Purpose-built pop may seem to be everywhere, but the sub-genre POH favour is not easy to master or sell, as similarly gifted outfits have discovered. The dBs are a classic example.

'Love Junk''s pristine sound derives from Rundgren's meticulous methods - Rundgren once released his own album of covers which were virtually indistinguishable from the originals, and that's no mean feat.

Berg: "Rundgren's a commercial 'failure', some would say - he's more famous than successful - but he's a lot more influential than you think. I grew up listening to him, and I think the LPs by bands he's produced are always the best ones.

"Recording with him was a pleasant experience for us. You put him in charge. That's the way he likes to work.

"He doesn't look for work, so when people come to him, he expects them to give him complete control and allow him to put his knowledge to work for them."

'I'm An Adult Now', a contemporary parallel of Alice Cooper's anthemic '70's hit 'I'm Eighteen', had instant appeal to consumers on both sides of the great age divide.

"As you get older it's more and more accurate for you, but young kids like it too, because the ideas and attitude in the song are amusing to them."

And lines like "I can't take too much loud music / I mean I like to play it but I sure don't like the racket" certainly confirm young people's dread of the big 30 - or even 20!

Pursuit of Happiness will continue converting the heathens to power pop '89, with their secret weapon, singer Leslie Stanwyk (sic) to the fore. Whether she's the subject of 'She's So Young' is another question - one which discretion prevents me from asking.

But when I ask Berg if Stanwyk is his Patti Scialfa - Springsteen's stagestruck femme fatale - of the moment, he demurs. I guess poor ol' Berg's an adult now, too.

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