Debut Solo Album From STEVE STOECKEL of the Spongetones Out 2/24 On Big Stir Records

Big Stir Records is extraordinarily proud to begin our 2023 release year with the long-awaited solo debut album from STEVE STOECKEL, founding member of Power Pop Hall Of Famers THE SPONGETONES. Featuring fifteen all-new tracks ranging from hook-heavy rockers in the Spongetones style to lovely folk-tinged jewels of melody, THE POWER OF AND sees release February 24 on CD in record stores worldwide and on all digital platforms, and is up for pre-order at now. It features the new single “Just One Kiss” as well as Steve‘s prior hit Big Stir singles “Why” (featuring IRENE PEÑA) and “Birds”, as well as “Mod Girl” which reunites Stoeckel with all of his Spongetones bandmates.

For decades, STEVE STOECKEL has been penning and performing highlight compositions with his legendary band, on duo recordings with fellow Spongetone Jamie Hoover, and most recently as part of the far-flung collective POP CO-OP. That makes THE POWER OF AND a long-overdue opportunity for listeners to experience Stoeckel stretching out on a full-length LP under his own name. The songs on the album, galloping rockers and bucolic idylls alike, are textbook studies in heartfelt songwriting economy. Each one packs a stunning wealth of melody and strikingly original imagery and wordplay into their brief run times, with the full 15-track record clocking in at a breezy 37 minutes. There’s not a note or a word out of place and all of it’s instantly memorable, inviting another spin as soon as the pyrotechnics of the closing track end with a resounding bang.

Kicking off with the boisterous Merseybeat-informed “Laura Lynn” (one of several tunes here to refresh the “girl’s name” pop song trope in delightfully surprising ways) and following it with the sweetly understated acoustic-based “Birds,” THE POWER OF AND establishes its palette at the outset. There’s a compelling back-and-forth between refreshed retro-rockers like the galloping “Christine” or the Spongetones-propelled “Mod Girl” and delicate borderline-baroque miniatures (the aural iridescence of “Hummingbird”, the musical and lyrical poetry of the title track). The combination of complementary textures is sure to strike many listeners as the kind of superbly melodic and nuanced album experience they haven’t often heard since the late ’60s, while longtime followers of the Spongetones will recognize that Stoeckel’s been mining — and refining – this kind of glittering ore all along.

Even for the faithful, there are surprises along the way. There’s the Celtic ode “The Emerald Sea” replete with Gaelic passages and dueling pennywhistles and stinging electric guitar leads. And “Why”, the Seekers-like duet with Irene Peña that was Stoeckel’s first hit single with Big Stir in 2021. The journey treats us to the whimsical instrumental “Skippy’s Parade” and the hauntingly stark “Heather Gray” along the way to its closing track. That would be the powerfully scathing political broadside “Whistling Past Graveyards”, rendered poignant as the last collaboration between Stoeckel and Spongetones drummer Chris Garges before the latter’s untimely passing. All of it is indicative of a creative restlessness that’s as welcoming as it is playful.

The exuberant lead single “Just One Kiss” brings all of the record’s threads together in one irresistible three-minute package. Strolling in with a lilting uke-and-vocal intro, both the song and Stoeckel‘s keening, sophisticated vocal line start swinging when the drums and electric guitars kick in. And the line “Anyone can see you were never kissed correctly from the start” is as demonstrative of Stoeckel’s considerable wit as anything on the album. In fact his way with words, and ear for wedding them to pitch-perfect musical settings, yields many of THE POWER OF AND‘s most magical moments. It can be heard in the dream-inspired lyrics to the shuffling “Strange Cameo”, and on “If/Only” a tender appreciation on what might not have been but happily is: “If you hadn’t been beside me there in that dim, crowded place / If I hadn’t turned to hear you and felt the lips that brushed my face.” The music is gentle but urgent, contented but searching, and it’s simply lovely.

Perhaps most emblematic of Stoeckel‘s approach here is “The Monsters Under My Bed,” a true anthem for the young at heart. “It’s a tribute to the wonderful Maurice Sendak, who, like me, knew the delightful things that wild things can bring to one’s life,” says Stoeckel. “The song is a promise never to let them go, to keep a child’s view always.” The new record makes good on that promise: after four decades of songwriting and performing, STEVE STOECKEL is still reveling in discovering new ways to delight us with words and music, and using it to bring us together. It’s the sound of a Power Pop Hall Of Famer demonstrating his mastery of the form and reaching beyond it as well. Such is THE POWER OF AND, as Steve describes it: an album-length ode to “the connective power this little word has” and a celebration of a whole new chapter in an already illustrious career.

Big Stir Records
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