In terms of purist, catchy rock craftsmanship in 2022, Rogers & Butler’s new vinyl record Brighter Day – streaming at Bandcamp – is as good as it gets. Guitarist Stephen Butler’s American powerpop sensibility makes a good anchor for singer Edward Rogers’ more artsy, psychedelic blend of 70s Brummie rock, Bowie surrealism and more towering European-flavored sounds, from the Church to Oasis. Their six-stringer bandmate Don Piper’s production puts luscious guitar up front with the vocals, bass and drums in the back where they belong. The duo are opening for the brilliantly lyrical Amy Rigby on a killer twinbill on Oct 3 at 7:30 PM at City Winery; you can get in for $15.
Notwithstanding the bright chord changes and singalong melodies, there’s a frequent undercurrent of unease here, echoing Rogers’ work over the past several years. Although it’s likely that a lot of the songs here date from before the plandemic, themes of alienation and despair filter to the surface in places. They open with the title track, which comes across as beefed-up Big Star: “Six feet apart or six feet underground, the choice is yours to make,” Rogers rasps sarcastically.
Where Does the World Hide rises from a skittish midtempo new wave tune to a big nocturnal alienation anthem: “Every second’s a lifetime when no one ever returns your calls,” Butler confides. They follow with Last Reply, a distantly elegaic, Beatlesque piano ballad, Chris Carmichael overdubbing himself into a one-man string orchestra.
Spiced with Joe McGinty’s Fender Rhodes, Learn to Live Again is a more lithe, sparely arranged take on Willie Nile-style powerpop, a cynical chronicle dotted with plandemic imagery, “scarred stale reminders of where we’ve been.” It’s hardly optimistic.
Marmalade Eyes, a cautionary tale about a femme fatale, begins as a wary acoustic-electric waltz, then the band morph it into a steady powerpop update on 60s psych-pop. Over layers of guitar jangle, spare piano and floating mellotron, Rogers chronicles a carefree stroll along a main street of junk shops and t-shirt vendors in A Perfect Market Day. Yet beneath the surface, in the context of the events after March 2020, it’s heartbreaking. Who knew we would ever miss something as mundane as browsing in a vintage store?
The band follow Butler’s burning garage rock-tinged stomp Desire with Cabaret, a wistful Spanish guitar waltz by Rogers that wouldn’t be out of place on an early 70s Al Stewart record. The best song on the album is The Sun Won’t Shine, a haunting, death-fixated backbeat anthem that could be ELO from the latter part of that decade but with harder production values.
The band close the record with Oh Romeo, a Celtic ballad with an elegant interweave of acoustic guitar and mandolin, and then A Brand New Tomorrow, a Daytripper knockoff with extra guitar multitracks. It was fun to watch an early incarnation of the band pulling their show together about three years ago; it’s validating to see how well these two veteran tunesmiths complement each other.