by Jack Silbert
(ABOVE: photo by Andrew Kist)
On October 4, 1957, the Soviet Union launched the very first satellite, Sputnik, into space. It orbited our planet for three weeks before falling silent, and then tumbled back to Earth two months later. Sputnik the band, in contrast, has had a much longer lasting run. Since releasing their debut album in 2003, longtime Hoboken resident Genie Morrow has steadily piloted the group, still beaming out sweet and sad signals today.
It’s been 11 years between Sputnik’s second album, Shine On…, and their new long-player, 333. While the band’s trademark sunny sound is intact, there’s an added layer of loss and disenchantment which maturity can’t help but bring. Recurring themes include nostalgia for childhood summer days, and promises that have been broken. Through it all, Genie Morrow (sister of Glenn Morrow from Hoboken’s legendary Bar/None record label and the band Glenn Morrow’s Cry for Help) somehow remains an optimist.
That positive spirit is evident on the propulsive lead cut, “Emerge From the Earth.” Mic Rains’ rocking guitar introduces the song, soon joined by Nigel Rawles’ steady drumming, Pemberton Roach’s nimble bass, and a bright multi-tracked trumpet from Joe Drew. Morrow’s soothing vocals deliver a manifesto for starting fresh. Crisp production on this song and throughout the album comes courtesy of Grammy winner Carl Glanville, who’s previously worked with U2, Bruce Springsteen, Joan Jett, etc.
Next up, a ringing guitar sets the scene for “A Frame to Skycrest,” childhood memories of innocent days by the beach — until there’s a (real or imagined?) interstellar vanishing. Ground control to Major Tom….
In addition to Morrow’s compositions, Sputnik has been known for excellent taste in cover songs, and 333 is no exception. First up is a fairly faithful reading of Kirsty MacColl’s “They Don’t Know” (also a top-10 hit for Tracey Ullman). Later, it’s fun to have a female take on Guided by Voices’ “Game of Pricks,” and the late Tom Petty gets a nod in “You and I Will Meet Again.” But the highlight might be a lonesome version of “I-95,” Fountains of Wayne’s tale of truck stops, night rides, and long-distance romance.
However, it’s the originals that will keep you coming back. In “Watching Movies,” an interrupted Netflix-and-chill parallels a couple’s troubled relationship. The gentle “Midnight Run” offers a lover a challenge to escape from it all, complete with quotes from the Robert De Niro/Charles Grodin classic of the same name. “Kennywood Park” is another childhood recollection, this time of boardwalk sunsets and the sea air. (I know, I know, Kennywood is in landlocked Pittsburgh, just roll with it, OK?) The song ends with a twinge of sadness, realizing that youthful vows don’t always hold water.
In “333,” the album’s title track and centerpiece, we see that grown-up promises don’t carry much weight either. A mournful slide guitar perfectly sets the mood, along with a slow-picked banjo courtesy of Jon Jackson. Reminders of failed relationships are everywhere; it can sting a little each time the clock hits 3:33. And yet, when Morrow insists, “I’m happy I got to know you,” we genuinely believe her.
In the final song, “Heart,” Morrow sums up her positive philosophy: The future is unknown, the past is littered with rough memories, but “It’s the heart that will remain, long after everything falls away.” Musically, the track slowly builds until it reaches Wall of Sound proportions, led by Rawles’ sturdy drumming. 333 is a rewarding, emotion-packed listen, and I thank Sputnik for welcoming us all aboard.