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Members include Jamie Hoover, vocals, guitar; Steve Stoeckel, vocals, bass; Rob Thorne, drums; Pat Walters, vocals, guitar. Addresses: Record company--Gadfly Records, P.O. Box 5231, Burlington, VT 05402, website: http://www.gadflyrecords.com. Business--Attention: Jessie Garon Costello, P.O. Box 36492, Charlotte, NC 28236. Website--Spongetones Official Website: http://www.spongetones.com.
In 2000, almost 40 years after the beginning of the British Invasion and the first wave of Beatlemania, power pop rockers the Spongetones released Odd Fellows. The album, influenced by the Dave Clark Five, the Hollies, and the early Beatles, came after a five-year hiatus for the group. Odd Fellows was the sixth full-length release for the band, and even after 20 years of performing and recording, the Spongetones have remained faithful to the cheerful, innocent sounds of British pop of the past.
Based in Charlotte, North Carolina, the Spongetones grew out of a Beatles cover act that performed at a local bar in the early 1980s. The Spongetones are Jamie Hoover, lead vocalist and guitarist; Steve Stoeckel, vocalist and bassist; Rob Thorne, drummer; and Pat Walters, vocalist and guitarist. Walters left the band in the mid-1980s but had returned by 1991. Although the band started out by covering older songs, the musicians quickly adopted the sound as their own and incorporated it into their original material. Throughout their career, the Spongetones have not only been known for their pop recordings, but also for their high-energy stage shows.
The fledgling group signed with Ripete Records in 1982 and quickly released its debut album, Beat Music. The Spongetones' sound is often called Merseybeat, a term used to describe music from the early British Invasion. The term borrows the name of the Mersey River that runs through Liverpool, England. It is the sound of bands like Gerry and the Pacemakers and the Searchers, as well as the Beatles between 1963-64. The Spongetones temper the melody-driven sound--exemplified by the Beatles' song "Love Me Do"--with influences like the Who and even late 1980s psychedelic bands like XTC.
Even as their music draws comparisons to other bands and clearly evokes a certain style of pop, the Spongetones manage to keep their material fresh and original. Although Chris Woodstra of All Music Guide called their efforts "derivative," he also noted that the songs were ultimately "enjoyable." In another review, Woodstra called the Spongetones' albums "effortlessly catchy." Parke Puterbaugh, writing in Rolling Stone, went even further in asserting the originality of the music. He noted that Beat Music was not "the rote, dogmatic obeisance of mere revivalism," but rather was "aglow with a forward-thrusting musical abandon." Kevin Matthews of Pop Matters online also commented on the push and pull of a band devoted to a certain revivalist sound also struggling to produce original, innovative material of their own. He wrote that the Spongetones have "an uncanny ability to evoke the sound and style of their major musical influence (the Beatles circa 1964), not as a cynical act of self-promotion but a sincere labor of love." The band is able to pull off this tightrope walk "without embarrassment and without artifice," according to Matthews.
After modest success with Beat Music, the Spongetones released a six-song EP for Ripete called Torn Apart. The 1984 effort was the first time the band worked with producer Don Dixon, who was known for his ability to bring out a raw, crunchy sound from the music. Other guests on the album were producer Mitch Easter and the band R.E.M., who assisted with hand claps on the track "Shock Therapy." The release received some favorable critical attention; Kurt Loder wrote in Rolling Stone that the EP offered "proof that [the group] can really write," and noted that the "well crafted" songs "deserve to be heard here and now," not just taken as throwbacks to an earlier era.
In 1987, the Spongetones formed their own independent label called Triapore Records. As a sort of experiment, the band worked again with producer Dixon and recorded what stands out as the album most unlike their other releases. The Black Vinyl Records biography calls Where-Ever Land "[h]ighly experimental and inventive," both harder rocking and more psychedelic than earlier releases. Rick Gregory wrote for Audities online that he found Where-Ever Land "overblown," but Joe Brown of the Washington Post praised the release overall. He wrote that the album's "crisp, immediate presence ... promises good things." Brown did have some criticism for the Spongetones, however. He noted that they needed work on "their occasionally haphazard lyrics."
The band seems to have heeded this advice as their next release was praised by critics for its strong songwriting. After signing with Black Vinyl Records, the Spongetones released Oh Yeah! in 1991. The album marks a return to the Beatles' Merseybeat sound with good effect. Woodstra called the album "infectious," and Gregory praised its "playful sense of fun." Black Vinyl released two other albums for the Spongetones, 1994's Beat & Torn, which was a re-release of both Beat Music and Torn Apart, and the 1995 recording Textural Drone Thing. The latter represented a break with the pure power pop of Oh Yeah! and Beat Music, and Gregory commented that it was "more rootsy." Woodstra wrote in All Music Guide that Textural Drone Thing was also more "subtle" than the Spongetones' other albums.
After five years of silence following Textural Drone Thing, the Spongetones signed with a new label, Gadfly Records. Gadfly released Odd Fellows in 2000. A continuation of the band's devotion to the early Beatles' sound, the album includes "On the Wings of a Nightingale," written by Paul McCartney. Both the song and the album received positive critical attention. Rick Anderson applauded the effort in All Music Guide, praising both the "juicy-fruit chord progressions" and the hard-rocking edge of the album: "The Spongetones deliver their pop confections with the weight and momentum of a Detroit muscle car." Illustrating that the Merseybeat genre still has valuable pop material to be mined by talented musicians, the Spongetones continue to deliver, as Claudio Sossi noted at the Power Pop website, "sound, solid, and exhilarating music."
by Christine Kelley
The Spongetones's Career
Formed group in Charlotte, NC, c. 1981; signed with Ripete Records, released debut album, Beat Music,1982; released EP Torn Apart, 1984; formed independent label Triapore Records, released Where-Ever Land,1987; signed with Black Vinyl, released Oh Yeah!, 1991; re-released Beat Music and Torn Apart on one disc, Beat and Torn, 1994; released Textual Drone Thing, 1995; signed with Gadfly Records, released Odd Fellows, 2000.
- Selected discography
- Beat Music , Ripete, 1982.
- Torn Apart (EP), Ripete, 1984.
- Where-Ever Land Triapore, 1987.
- Oh Yeah! Black Vinyl, 1991.
- Beat & Torn (includes material from Beat Music and Torn Apart ), Black Vinyl, 1994.
- Textural Drone Thing Black Vinyl, 1995.
- Odd Fellows Gadfly, 2000.
- Billboard, March 24, 2001, p. 55.
- Rolling Stone, September 15, 1983, p. 61; May 10, 1984, p. 56.
- Washington Post, April 22, 1988, p. N23.
- "The Spongetones," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (July 10, 2001).
- "The Spongetones," Audities, http://www.audities.com (July 10, 2001).
- "The Spongetones," Black Vinyl, http://www.blackvinyl.com (July 10, 2001).
- "The Spongetones," Gadfly Records, http://www.gadflyrecords.com (July 10, 2001).
- "The Spongetones," Listen.com, http://www.listen.com (July 10, 2001).
- "The Spongetones," Pop Matters, http://www.popmatters.com (July 10, 2001).
- "The Spongetones," Power Pop, http://www.powerpop.org (July 10, 2001).
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