If there’s someone like an elder statesmen of the Portland music scene — at least, the Portland music scene of the past two decades — it’s Spencer Albee. For 20 years he’s played a major part in the slow-but-sure effort to put the city (and the state) on the nation’s musical radar, be it with Rustic Overtones, with As Fast As, Spencer and the School Spirit Mafia or Space vs. Speed, or now, as a solo artist.
And if there’s something that’s remained a musical constant over the years for Albee, 38, it’s been his tireless devotion to the foundational pop elements of rock music — the DNA that makes songwriters uncontrollably drawn to melody, to hooks, to music that’s got a beat and you can dance to. A serious affinity for pop hooks are in Albee’s genetic code, just as shrines to the gods McCartney and Nilsson are likely hidden away in a closet somewhere in his house, to which he prays daily. That inherent melodic skill has buoyed nearly everything Albee’s ever done, and nowhere is this more apparent than in his brand-new album, “Mistakes Were Made” — thirteen wry, witty, unstoppably catchy songs about love, both past and present, or love, the lack thereof.
Right from the beginning, “Mistakes Were Made” plays it’s hand, starting off with the plinking introductory chords of the title track, a paean to what could have been with an ex-girlfriend. Yes, it’s safe to say that that the ever-present Paul McCartney influence continues to be a thing, as does the Harry Nilsson thing — McCartney for the melodic perfection, Nilsson for the shambolic, self-effacing lyrics (and the melodies, too). Honestly, though, what’s wrong with wearing your influences on your sleeve? If you’re talented, and you’re smart, you can honor those formative inspirations while making the songs you write all your own. And even as he seems to be hung up on a kind of 1970s melodic pop-rock ideal, far more influences creep into Albee’s songs than one might expect — dig the power ballad album closer “Please Come Home,” or the propulsive psychedelia of “Love Is Not Enough.” In the same way that Spoon draws on some limitless well of classic 1970s and 80s rock and punk, so does Albee with the aforementioned time period.
It’s Albee’s personality and the musical choices he makes that sets him apart from other pop songwriters. Even as he conjures the sunny pastoralism of “Ram”-era McCartney (“Hold Me Close”), or the winking, boozy attitude of vintage Ringo Starr (“I Don’t Know”), or even directly covers the Zombies (an utterly charming take on “This Will Be Our Year”), it’s very clearly Albee at the helm. It’s the intelligent little touches — the melodica on the title track, the non-ironic bits of ukulele sprinkled throughout, and the exceptionally well-orchestrated keyboards and harmonies — that make “Mistakes” such a strong album, from one of the standard bearers of Maine music.
Spencer Albee will perform with Whale Oil at Mainely Brews in Waterville on Saturday, April 25, at the All Roads Music Festival in Belfast on May 16, and a record release party for “Mistakes Were Made” with guests Kat Wright & the Indomitable Soul Band and Leveret at Port City Music Hall in Portland on May 29. The new album is available at Bull Moose.