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V/A - Titan: It’s All Pop!

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Artist: V/A

Album: Titan: It’s All Pop!

Label: The Numero Group

Review date: Mar. 1, 2012

Power pop in a real, defined commercial sense wasn’t happening all that much in the late ‘70s, when record collectors Mark Prellberg and Tom Sorrells impulsively decided to terminate a long-in-the-works fanzine, Teen Titans, and use that money to start a label instead. Their effort, Titan Records, lasted a few short years out of Kansas City, Missouri, ambitions sheared to pieces by the economic realities of independent music sales. In that time, they were able to bang out half a dozen 7” singles, a compilation LP, and one pre-emptive strike, a live album by one of their artists who, dejected by the pair’s inaction, moved to Bomp! Records.

By all accounts, the pair behind Titan were more in the business of making records than selling them, striving for perfection beyond their limited means, and were left with boxes of unsold inventory in the end. Prellberg and Sorrells shared a passion for pop music that dominated their lives. Titan’s output, unsurprisingly, reflects this passion for the physical object itself. For a lot of people of a certain generation, the joys of music were first experienced through vinyl records and transistor radios, peepholes to another world that sounded vastly different and often preferable to the realities of where life happened to deposit them on this planet. These pleasures cannot be extracted from the mediums in which they were created; they are sacred objects, they have value beyond any perceived costs. Within them are the sounds of dreams extended, of writing/experiencing that hit song that propels its maker into stardom and brings everyone who was there from the start along to experience the highs of fame everlasting. It happened like that for so few, but for them it happened all the same, and it baited the hook for those who still believe it can come true. I’m sure the guys at Titan regarded that reality, but they didn’t know how to make it happen for any of their artists, and the music world isn’t known for holding open any doors for people with nothing new to offer it.

If accomplishing this in the present day is hard, imagine what it was like before there were reliable networks for independent record labels to sell through, when airplay was sewn up between major labels and promo personnel, and the only notion of marketing to paying customers was to put an ad in the back pages of a magazine and hope for the best. Like tens of thousands of other record labels that came before and after it, this was too much of a burden on Titan, with its limited resources and lack of visibility on any significant stage. The music industry had planted the seeds for power pop (The Raspberries, Todd Rundgren), and would eventually release more of it under the guise of New Wave and Top 40, but when Titan was approaching this sound, it hadn’t been branded and fully digested as such. Records of the canon, like Dwight Twilley’s minor hit single “I’m on Fire,” proved to be more anomaly than sign of things to come; Titan tried to pay respect and/or piggyback on his success by releasing a cover of his song “Shark” by local singer-songwriter Gary Charlson, with artwork that mimics Twilley’s record. “Shark” was the to be the follow-up to “I’m on Fire,” but was shelved by Twilley’s label for arcane reasons. In their own way, Titan made sure that it was released as it should have been.

Obsession, compulsion, disorder: this makes Titan: It’s All Pop! one hell of a story, and stories are ultimately what The Numero Group sells, along with a musical counterpart for context. Strengthening that argument, we find our curators stretching most of that body of work across four LPs, padded with the demos and studio offerings Titan never got around to issuing. The releases themselves are not presented in their proper context, but rather re-sequenced with the backlog of demos and unreleased tracks from when the Titan doors slammed shut. This is to the advantage of the collection, as the original tracks all point from very peculiar trajectories (and some, like the Gary Charlson live album, released without the artist’s consent, are not represented at all). Say what you will about artistic license, but when one of a label’s first releases is a not-too-great track called “Save Your Money,” as was the Gems’ debut Titan 45, the public tends to listen.

Power pop, in many ways, was the death throes of the songwriting industry as viewed through its initial contortion. Its reliance on star power and fandom pushed its practitioners in a chase for an ideal “hit song” style of work, that its audience either excavated from very recent history, or more likely, just never forgot from when it came around in the first place. The genre has room for a handful of tiny miracles and a second, more populous layer of very respectable tracks, but really, only obsessives could get through half an album of Gary Charlson, or an entire LP’s worth of material by The Boys, before getting worn down with the sameness of it all. If the concept in presenting It’s All Pop! was to celebrate the folly of the failed independent record label, then there are probably more than a few thousand people out there who can relate via their own experiences. The tale of Titan is greater than the sum of its parts, and it’s a fascinating tale, but you can fill in the blanks in how it ends without having to sit through their artifacts. Numero has done an excellent job in presenting the material, but without that presentation, there’s not much to celebrate here.

By Doug Mosurock

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