It is no surprise that Dan Sonenberg, a professor of music at the University of Southern Maine, tears into the songs he plays with his rock band, Lovers of Fiction, with the same kind of compositional fervor that he shows the many works of chamber music he’s written over the years. That kind of professional, professorial musical expertise is a rare thing, not just in the Maine music scene, but in rock music in general. How many lead singers in a rock band have also written a full-length opera? Not many. None in Maine (to my knowledge).
Most of the songs on “Long Overdue,” the first full-length album from Lovers of Fiction, seem to fulfill a need Sonenberg has to exorcise his rock n’ roll demons. Though the theory-driven strictures of classical music drive most of his professional life, rock music seems to let his less structured id flow through. “Long Overdue” manages to skate a fine line between high orchestration and rock looseness. Case in point: “Superhero Chin,” the second song on the album, is a rollicking piano-driven barn burner, decorated with fat, chunky saxophone arrangements, as if David Bowie was a guest on an early Elton John record. That same kind of glam rock groove can be found seven songs later on “Big Boy Walking,” a scorcher that’s rife with fluorescent trumpet fanfares and vocal swagger.
There are beautiful arrangements throughout the album’s 11 songs, whether it’s horns, keys or harmony vocals. “Everybody Wants to Be an ENFP” offers up a slow, funky, electric piano crawl, which gives way to a free jazz-esque freakout, while the jagged rhythms of “Another Song,” another full-throated rocker, features an electric guitar solo breakdown in the grand tradition of Queen. The fairly straightforward rock ballad “The Bear, Part 2” belie Sonenberg’s Billy Joel influences, an inspiration that indie rockers should never scoff at — Joel is a master writer of melody, and Sonenberg uses that to his full advantage.
There’s a lot going on here. Though one could say that this is, essentially, a piano driven rock songwriter record, there’s enough weirdness present in the arrangements that it ends up being something a little more than that. It’s bombastic, for sure — the album’s centerpiece, “Old Man in a Rainstorm,” is a ballsy seven-minute torch song, complete with a few ELO-esque synth blasts and a long, wordless sing-along portion that blends into the album’s final track, “The Alligator,” an arch, ornate, waltz-time confection. Bombast is a flammable ingredient in any rock outfit. Sometimes it works in the band or artist’s favor, and elevates the music to an irresistible, theatrical high. And sometimes it’s just silly. Fortunately for Sonenberg, “Long Overdue,” while just a little silly in a few places, is heavier on the irresistibility.
“Long Overdue” is available on https://loversoffiction.bandcamp.com.