“Hey now, I’m a golden king,” sings Kieran Mercer on “Building Walls and Burning Bridges”, from Jackie Valentine’s debut album. He’s almost certainly not addressing himself, but it’d be bang-on if he was. Two years ago, Mercer was just a guy with a handful of demos and a Myspace page. Cut to 2010, and the 22 year old singer-songwriter-guitarist is sitting on a mind-blowing debut album recorded at Vancouver’s Mushroom studios.
“The first day was weird,” Mercer confesses, “because we’re a bunch of kids from White Rock, and there’s Trooper records and Loverboy records on the wall, and we’re going in and doing our little songs…”
His songs make too much of an impact to be “little”, but self-effacement aside, it’s easy to appreciate why the Golden King is dazzled by his current situation. When 604 Records head Jonathan Simkin originally happened upon his DIY Myspace efforts – specifically, a nugget of baroque pop called “The Divorce” that could easily pass as a string-driven Left Banke cover - he advised Mercer to get himself a band. By the time he entered the legendary west coast studio, the industrious Mercer was flanked by guitarist-vocalist Cameron Gray, bassist Martin Leather, drummer Graham Boots, and dream producer Dave Genn.
Clearly, the chemistry was precious - Jackie Valentine and their Midas-fingered knob-twiddler have managed to find a middle ground between Maroon 5 and Paul McCartney on power pop overdrive.
Check out “On the Phone”, which could be Ram-era Paul hanging with Badfinger.
Or “Lay Low”, which is lover’s rock with a dash of Wings’ “Let Me Roll It”.
Things get even more ear-bending with the Cameron Gray composed and sung “Caged Down Here”, where stacked doo-wop harmonies and thumping piano conspire to suggest Todd Rundgren pretending to be post-Smile Beach Boys. Same goes for “Keep It Going” - imagine shimmering, new millennium dance pop somehow splitting the difference between ELO and meathead-free BTO.
This is strange, captivating, wholly original music from a young band with a strong feel for history.
“I think that sense of pop music has been lost,” Mercer pleads, adding that Michael Jackson is another bottom-line influence. “When people hear the word ‘pop’, they think of boy bands and stuff. I’m thinking more along the lines of the Beatles, Elton John, classic rock with a pop feel to it.”
The other side of Jackie Valentine – the Jackson side – is there in “Someone to Go Home With”, a sparkling, quasi-funk triumph built for summer nights and first love. “Building Walls and Burning Bridges” is weird and finicky blue-eyed pop pitched somewhere between Prince and the Philly sound.
First single “Brand New Car” is modern dance pop built on a claustrophobic guitar riff. It’d take a tin ear to not love this stuff. Or to put it another way, if you’ve ever adored a pop song in all its luminous, feelgood glory, then you know that Jackie Valentine took their one shot and aced it.
Mercer has to admit he’s a little “spooked out” that his world is changing faster than the speed of sound. It’s almost like things are working out too well. “It’s gonna be weird standing there with a bunch of extras and a film crew working around a song that I wrote in my basement on a Saturday night,” he chuckles, about an upcoming, Motown-inspired video shoot – but there you go. Every Golden King should be so humble.
Brand New Car:
I got a brand new car, and it's gonna take me so far away from
here, that's gonna leave a scar, don't wanna go back there, the
fact is I don't care
The pressure don't measure, I'm in control
Don't fear her, Just Steer her, and
I can't go wrong.
'Cuz she's a turbo charged driving machine,
She's the fastest running on the scene
I made up my mind, I'm making her mine, mine.
'Cuz she's at home when she's in the lead, she knows just what she's doing
'Cuz she's built for speed, I'm wondering why, I can't say that...
I got a brand new car, and I think it gives me a little bit of attitude
(Just stop and get it)
I wonder if she works that way
(Pack up and quit it)
She'll take the ride it's on my way
The pressure, don't measure, I'm in control
Don't fear her, just steer her, and than let go.
'Cuz she's a turbo charged driving machine, she's the fastest running on the scene
I made up my mind, I'm making her mine, mine.
'Cuz she's at home when she's in the lead,
She knows just what she's doing,
'Cuz she's built for speed. I made up my mind, I'm making her mine, mine.
'Cuz she's a turbo charged driving machine
(Just stop and get it),
She's running hotter than I've ever seen
(pack up and quit it)
I'm wondering why I can't say goodbye...goodbye...