. . .
In 1985, Pop Art fulfilled the promise of their self-titled EP with their first full-length album, A Perfect Mental Picture, filled with fourteen intricate guitar-pop songs filled with smart details about the search for love — or at least lust — among twentysomethings.
And, as I don’t have to tell you, it totally and completely took over the world, becoming the biggest-album of 1985, totally and completely turning the music business on its ear, as all of the major labels rushed to sign and release lo-fi guitar pop bands.
Oh wait, that’s not what happened. Because, of course, A Perfect Mental Picture was completely and totally out of step of what was going on in the mid-1980s, and the fact that it was self-released meant that its reach probably didn’t go that far. We had it in Fresno, though maybe not immediately, but I somehow doubt that they were playing Pop Art albums in the Midwest, much less the East Coast.
Which sucks, because that meant that too many of my peers never got to hear songs like the plaintive “One,” the gorgeously spiteful “October Wind,” or the utterly masterful “The Party,” which starts off with a Jeff Steinhart guitar hook that rings like the chimes of heaven over Rich Steinhart’s sturdy rhythm guiar, setting up Dave Steinhart’s tale of a massive failure to connect.
She’s a very clean girl with a very clean mind
As appealing from the front than from behind
She blithely takes in his attention
And he looks like a plug in search of a socket
With beer on his breath and a hand in his pocket
Trying to pull the wool over her eyes
So you can already tell which side Steinhart is on, right? And maybe she thinks he’s cute, or maybe she’s feeling lonely, so she figures what the hell.
Well she takes him by the hand and leads him to a room
She’s got a paisley shirt and a lot of perfume
He stumbles along in half disbelief
Then she sits him on the bed and recites him a poem
About a man with no head and a boy with no home
He wonders what the hell is going on
But here’s the thing: as interesting as the story is — and who hasn’t had a conversation at a party with someone you find attractive but you have nothing in common with? — it’s not why “The Party” moves me so much. It’s the chorus, which manages to be delicate and anthemic all at the same time:
And she’s out of time, out of dimes, and out of bounds
Trying to make believe there’s something in the boy she found
With Jeff Steinhart’s guitar leading the way, it’s a truly memorable and glorious chorus about someone trying to make the best of what almost instantly turns into what’s clearly going to be a story they they’ll both tell to their friends later, a story that ends the only possible way it could.
Now he jumps off the bed and he runs toward the door
He expected less but he paid for more
Well there’s no sense in wasting party time
And she wonders “What did he want from my time?”
“A piece of my ass or a piece of my mind?”
Well, neither comes that easily
One of things I like about “The Party” is that the verses switch perspective from the boy to the girl, and while the girl is clearly the protagonist — the chorus is all about her — it’s not totally unsympathetic towards the boy: he’s clearly a drunken dude looking for a hook-up, but he’s also clearly scared and curious, and in no way, shape or form was she ever in any kind of physical danger from him.
This all struck a chord with early twenties Jim, who had somehow stumbled into a social circle of people with whom he had a lot of things in common all the while trying to negotiate the minefields of meeting new girls of the opposite sex and figuring out the rules of attraction and flirting and maybe even (gulp!) physical contact. Often with this song ringing in my head, though it wasn’t like Pop Art ever got played at any of those parties: it was all R.E.M., The Smiths, U2, Violent Femmes, etc.
And then again, that chorus would have kept this song ringing in my head no matter what the subject was, it’s just that lovely.
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