I’m not really buying the talking points behind Army Navy’s sophomore disc. The tale frontman Justin Kennedy has shared in interviews is a bit too perfect: up-and-coming bandleader carries on torrid six-month affair with married Tinseltown ingénue of nominal renown, then writes album in a cathartic outpouring after having his heart shattered. It’s an ideal hook to draw extra ink, and to set fangeeks scouring the lyrics to “Ode to Janice Melt” for clues to the vixen’s identity. But if Kennedy intends to preserve his supposed muse’s anonymity, doesn’t this close-to-the flame promotional tease feel a bit stalker-y?
Fortunately, none of these misgivings extend to The Last Place itself. Army Navy’s self-titled 2008 debut offered a strong case as the most promising entry to the power pop field in years, and this slightly subdued, melancholy follow-up maintains the momentum. Kennedy has professed an affinity for Elvis Costello and the Attractions (whose drummer Pete Thomas guested on the debut), and new opener “Last Legs” bursts out of the gate with a hyper charge reminiscent of the way “No Action” announced the arrival of This Year’s Model – albeit with a second guitar subbing for the Farfisa. However, this LA outfit’s overall repertoire still has far more in common with second wave practitioners like Teenage Fanclub and the Posies.
The best power pop manages to sound effortless amid impeccable songcraft, and The Last Place does carry the whiff of a difficult second album. Yet this labored-over vibe doesn’t dull the impact of the epic “The Hunter” or the multi-tracked majesty of “The Long Goodbye.” When he goes for vulnerability, Kennedy’s fey vocals betray his partial Liverpuddlian bloodlines – at times the album can feel like the work of an ace singer/songwriter rather than a closely functioning unit. This may owe to Army Navy’s loss of a member between albums, and Louie Schultz’s doubling up on studio bass and guitar duties. But one run through the simple three-minute pleasures of “Feathered” and all is forgiven.
The Last Place delivers a few less pure gems than Army Navy, but even its somewhat generic moments line up with mid-level Tommy Keene, which is hardly a knock. There’s a reason this well-connected band landed on the soundtrack to Nick and Norah’s Infinite Mixtape; The Last Place offers premium fodder for countless more mixtapes.
The Last Place
[The Fever Zone]