Power pop and what used to be called garage rock bleed together to wonderful effect in Unrequited Hits, the debut album by the Returnables, a Chicago-based quartet which formed in Madison, Wisconsin, on former Naked Raygun leader Jeff Pezzati’s label. (He executive produced and played piano on one track.) Stirring melodies, breathless rhythms and evident knowledge of a wide variety of forbears set up songs that don’t stint on raucous power or silly high school lyrics (“She Throws Punches,” “Your Teenage Friends,” “Bubblegum” — it makes perfect sense that girls’ names figure in the titles of four songs here) but also sparkle with tuneful wit, sharp hooks and fine club-honed playing. (And kudos for including “Monica,” a previously unrecorded song written by former Green/Lilacs bassist Ken Kurson.) The spectrum on Unrequited Hits runs from the Buzzcocks to the Elvis Brothers to the Smugglers, all more in terms of feel and attitude than derivation. Basically, bassist Reggie Lee Ray (Bran Harvey), drummer Arturo Lee Ray (Art Kubin) and guitarists Bobby James Lee Ray (John Glick) and Frankie Lee Ray (Jonathan Ben-Isvy) — all sing and write — understand that memorable pop requires discipline and attention to detail, but exciting rock demands headlong carelessness. And they uphold both ends. A zillion bands have donned this coat, but few have worn it so smartly.
So When Can I See You Again? — four rushed songs by a half-different lineup — is a bit more bratty in lyric and Buzzcockian in sound than the album, but not to be dismissed. The March 2003 reissue adds four post-album tracks (one written by each member of the foursome, revealing that Kubin is the purest popster in the bunch and that Glick could be a Wedding Present fan) that are more assured and ambitious, but a hair less puppy-dog lovable.