Jonny Polonsky’s first full-length in eight years, The Power of Sound, should be a welcome surprise to anyone who had the good fortune of discovering him in the mid-’90s and since assumed his career’s demise. For the rest of us, it’s a full-fledged indoctrination into the music of a man we should’ve been listening to all along. In a cliché just begging to be exploited, this is one powerful album, a blitzkrieg of grungy power-pop. At only ten songs and 31 minutes in length, it’s over before you’re ready, but it doesn’t give itself the chance to let you down.
Handpicked by Frank Black and Pete Droge, Polonsky’s got built-in credentials. The rock/power-pop singer/songwriter from Wilmette, IL first impressed Black with a homemade tape back in the early ’90s. Black produced a proper demo tape for Polonsky and hooked him up with a manager, helping him to sign a deal with American Records in 1995. The result was 1996’s Hi My Name is Jonny, also produced by Frank Black. When American lost its distribution deal, Polonsky was back on his own, and it took him five years to release the There is Something Wrong With You EP on eggBERT Records.
During a subsequent tour, Polonsky met the like-minded Pete Droge, whose song “If You Don’t Love Me, I’ll Kill Myself” served as the wonderfully wry soundtrack to the snowball fight scene in Dumb and Dumber. Droge also dug Polonsky and helped him to get a contract with Loveless Records, who agreed to release The Power of Sound.
Listening to the album, you might hear an edgier Matthew Sweet, or perhaps a poppier and more melodic Sweet Water. Either way, you’re sure to conclude one thing – this stuff is sweet! Frank Black, a favorite artist of the teenage Polonsky, makes his presence felt through driving and multi-layered rock made accessible and fun. With a name like The Power of Sound, you’d also expect a broader musical palette than just guitar, drums, and bass – and that’s what you get – well, sorta. Polonsky, who plays all the instruments save a few drum tracks carried by A Perfect Circle’s Josh Freese, introduces violin, tambourine, and keyboard into a few cuts.
“Where the Signs End” is the album’s greatest rocker, where Polonsky busts out his wickedest riff and guitar solo and even opens up the pipes for some cathartic screams. Next in line is another highlight, “How Much Do You Know?” Fans of the Smashing Pumpkins will hear fellow Chicago native Billy Corgan incarnate in multiple guitar parts throughout this song, but there’s also a sunniness to the song that is decidedly non-Corgan. “I’ve been waiting so long / Just to tell you, tell you something / Wonder if you know what I will tell you / Of my secret,” he sings at the opening of the track. Polonsky’s tease hints at the fun he finds in uncertainty, a recurring lyrical theme throughout all ten songs.
The acoustic guitar is only showcased once on the album, a rare feat for a solo artist of Polonsky’s ilk. The song in which it appears, “All This Freezing,” is actually a dull moment on the record for its slower pace and sparser sound. But it does hint that Polonsky could probably perform a stunningly soulful acoustic set if he felt so inclined.
Take it from Frank Black, Pete Droge, and yours truly – this guy’s got something special. At a time when most independent rock is less-than-cheerful, our country is less-than-united, and our world is increasingly unstable, Jonny Polonsky is more than happy to remind us that there is still hope – The Power of Sound. As he urges us in the album’s closer, “Come on / Don’t you live for the light?”