UP CLOSE - Michael Carpenter (Laughing Outlaw/Not Lame)

Michael Carpenter could just be THE Oz musician to become better acquainted with in 2002. That way, you get in before the rest of the world discovers him. This album, much of which was originally released on Stateside pop label Not Lame as the "Baby" long player, is seriously brilliant. No argument.

Devotees of Sydney's quietly bubbling powerpop scene will have heard of Carpenter in one guise or another. Maybe, as singer/guitarist in the Finkers (popsters with members in Sydney and Melbourne but more fans in Spain, it seems) or drummer in the Pyramidiacs (another band better loved overseas than here). Possibly as resident producer at Stagefright Studios in Sydney. Bottom line, the man's a multi-instrumentalist with an ear for a melody and the ability to latch onto classic influences and make them his own. This album makes him a candidate to join the likes of Dom Mariani and Dave Faulkner in the top line of Australian power-pop writers in the last 20 years (and that's no small commendation.)

From the Costelloesque opener, "Kailie Ann", to the sweet folksiness of "Love Is Like...", to the Beach Boys vocal patterns of "Thinking About You" to the jaunty pop of "Hopefulness" (and they're just the first four songs) this is an album all about TUNES. Pure and simple. Crystalline production and played, for the most part, by the Carpenter bloke himself. There's something for everyone - a stadium rock song in the offing ("Love So Strong"), an AOR hit ("Changes"), a disembodied pop classic ("You Won't See") and an intro to seven (count 'em!) not insubstantial bonus cuts that manages to be acapella as the same time as having its tongue in its cheek. There's only one cover - a Gene Clark song "That's Alright By Me" from a Not Lame tribute.

This Bar's pretty much a place for high energy jams and we're accused of wearing our rocking heats-full-of-napalm on our sleeves most of the time, but it's fairly hard to dismiss a disc this infectious. Fact is, the Carp rocks pretty well too (as much of the best Oz power pop does - something to do with ancestral links to sweaty beat music and beer barns.) Evidence aplenty on tracks like "In On Me" and "It's Over" (the latter a dense stomp with M.C. playing everything.)

We in the Bar don't often gush, but it's hard to believe Michael Carpenter isn't in the sights of every A & R man with half a brain (is that a contradiction in terms). Get your heads out of your arses, guys! - The Barman