Seattle power pop pioneer Jim Basnight led the Moberlys visibly in the late ’70s and nearly out of sight for another decade; the original quartet was over by the time its album of sparkling mid-tempo tunes was assembled and released. In the mid-’90s, while the singer/guitarist was recording and performing solo and with the Rockinghams, Basnight repackaged eight tracks from the Moberlys’ album with six others (ignoring the intervening EP) and issued them as First Album. Not surprisingly, the delightfully surf-boppin’ “Live in the Sun” moves up to lead off the CD, which is a catchy and illustrative document of the Northwest’s musical past. Expanded for German release with nicer packaging, the 23-track Sexteen adds back two more from the old album and digs seven more out of the vaults to assemble the most complete Moberlys collection ever.
Miles from the Moberlys’ elementary adolescent exuberance, Basnight’s Pop Top is an accomplished adult record — albeit an unevenly eclectic and commercial-minded one that runs a gamut from pretty pop to smarmy radio rock. His songwriting has developed in a number of different directions, and parts of the skillful album don’t sound that different from a smarter indie analogue of Tom Petty, Bob Seger, John Mellencamp or Bon Jovi. Perhaps exchanging one era’s stars for another’s is inevitable, but Pop Top isn’t very much fun. Four unpretentious guitar-rockers produced by Peter Buck of R.E.M. are easily the album’s best: the echo-drenched simplicity of “Hello Mary Jane,” “Evil Touch” and the magnificently melodic “Restless Night” connect Basnight to his past without having to relive it.
Randomly constructed and meaninglessly titled, the solo cassettes (sold by mail if no other way) don’t offer any information as to their sources or intent. Each album-length tape contains unfamiliar, presumably new, material (the best is Total Shit‘s “Bare My Soul,” with nervy, defensive lyrics) along with old tracks from the first Moberlys album; Retro includes an extra big helping of those, plus all four songs from the 1984 EP and an early version of the Rockinghams’ “Uncertain.” In any case, all of the music keeps to the same pop-rock straight and narrow, so it doesn’t much matter what came from where.
The Rockinghams, Basnight’s trio with bassist Jack Hanan and ex-Muffs drummer Criss Crass, is spunkier and less obviously eager to join the mainstream — and that’s good. In a typically inexplicable sequence of record releases, the twelve-song Monsters of Rock tape (which supplants the six-song Roughs tape and contains all five songs drawn off for the Monsters of Rock CD EP, which has identical artwork in addition to the same title — not too confusing) starts off with traditional electric pop (shades of the Plimsouls) but quickly moves into smeary glam-rock (debt to the Dolls), surging boogie (“Uncertain”) and chunky riff power (“Hello Mary Jane,” a song also on Pop Top). Not new, but not bad.
In ’95, the multifarious Basnight co-wrote the songs for Little Rock, a civil-rights musical staged by the Seattle Children’s Theatre.