There’s something about power pop that even albums that are 22 years old can sound as if they’ve been recorded yesterday. That’s definitely the case with Fire Lane, a 1995 album from Gerry Devine & the Hi-Beams that has just been reissued.
The band formed out the remains of the Floor Models, the New York bar band that Devine fronted in the ‘80s and released a compilation of its originals, Floor Your Love, in late 2013. After Andy Pasternack left the band, Devine, bassist Steve Simels and drummer Glen Robert Allen picked up guitarist J.D. Goldberg, and rechristened themselves as Gerry Devine & the Hi-Beams.
They signed to Mitch Cantor’s Gadfly label and released Fire Lane in 1995. However, the band was never happy with the mastering job. After Simels finished work on a second Floor Models project, an EP of new material called Letter From Liverpool, he discovered the original DAT mixes of Fire Lane, and which also had some live tracks and a few outtakes, and decided to have it properly mastered for a reissue. It didn’t hurt that “A Drop of Rain,” written after Devine watched Ken Burns’ documentary on the Civil War, seemed still sadly relevant.
But the downbeat earnestness of “A Drop of Rain” is an outlier. Like Floor Your Love, these are smart, adult songs with sweet, catchy melodies, but with less power and more Americana. As befitting a band that defined its sound as “Merseyside Cowboy Music,” many of the songs pick up where the Beatles’ excursions into country ended once they discovered acid (the solo of “Nowhere Man” is even briefly quoted in the jangly “The Exception That Proves the Rule”). Devine’s hooks are subtle, like the key change that introduces the bridge of the opener “Anybody Else” and the setup to the titular line in the lovely ballad “Excuses, Excuses.” There’s more than a touch of Buddy Holly in “Why Does Love Have to Be Like That.” The lone misstep is “(Man Oh Man) That Was Some Short Ride,” a perfectly fine bluesy rocker that Devine and the band lack the muscle to convincingly pull off.