Eateries have played as significant part in the evolution of rock'n'roll as the more ubiquitous sex and drugs over the years. Barney's Beanery in Los Angeles often kept Jim Morrison going when he forgot which motel he was staying at; The Clash met for a provocative egg on toast each morning while they were rehearsing the songs for 'London Calling' and up in Liverpool the local common denominator was the infamous Brian's cafe where the late Bunnymen drummer Pete De Freitas was reputed to have managed four full breakfasts one morning. And his skill behind the kit sure as hell didn't diminish.
Cracking Swedish power popsters THE PLASTIC PALS, though, have taken the concept one stage further with their debut album, 'Good Karma Cafe', which is named after a sadly defunct, but hugely popular drop-in eaterie aimed at servicing the culinary requirements of travelling musicians passing through McComb, Southern Mississippi. The romance of this little joint in the middle of nowhere which cared enough to try and make things happen was more than enough to fire the imagination of Plastic Pals' frontman Hakan 'Hawk' Soold: a man who knows a thing or three about the wide open spaces and truckstops fleshing out John Steinbeck's novels.
Excellent though it is, however, the song 'Good Karma Cafe' – when taken on its' own – is enough to sell you something of a dummy where The Plastic Pals are concerned. It's a gorgeously wistful, Americana-tinged affair with plenty of space for guest Jason Shogren's regal pedal steel to waft around and some notably lonesome Neil Young-style harmonica. But while it's a great, moving tribute, it's by no means the be-all and end-all of Pals' sonic lore.
Indeed – along with the crackly and lo-fi closer 'Let's Pretend This Isn't True' – the title track is one of the few places where The Plastic Pals' adherence to beefy and intelligent power-pop lets up. Opener 'Here Comes The Sun' (no, not that one) is far truer to the record's ideal: bursting with vitality and crunching Mod-pop energy without feeling the need to wear a Target T-shirt, it signals the opening of a fine, wholly consistent two guitars, bass and drums record which is cut from durable rock'n'roll cloth without ever sounding horribly derivative.
Much of what follows is equally gritty, disciplined and impassioned. Crunching rockers like 'There's Wind On The Moon', 'Gone With The Wind' and 'Shadow Of A Doubt' nod towards tough'n'tender favourites from both side of the pond from Television to The Godfathers and prime Elvis Costello but ultimately refuse to sound like anything other than The Plastic Pals on fire on their own terms.
Clearly, The Pals are a fabulous unit. The rhythm section are guy-rope tight, but still swing with the best of 'em; frontman Soold has a commanding set of lungs on him and oozes presence throughout and in guitarist Anders Sahlin (I'm assuming he's responsible) they have a real star-in-waiting. I'd begun to think the classic lead guitarist was a virtually extinct breed these days, but clearly no-one told Sahlin who proceeds to peel off solos full of the kind of flash and elegance that even The Only Ones' John Perry would be proud of on songs like 'Gone With The Wind', 'There's Wind On The Moon' and the quality, slow burning ballad 'Long & Lonely'.
The other thing that really sets The Plastic apart is Soold's skill as a lyricist. Occasionally, he conjures up a neo-psychedelic mysticism, as on 'Gone With The Wind' (“a sea burst through the park and a clipper made the scene/ it was the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen”) which recalls the cosmic oddness of The Ramones' 'Highest Trails Above', but mostly his observations whether personal ('Best Kept's Secret”s vivid and hearbreaking observations of death) or political (the darkly topical 'Suicide Bomber') are both effective and memorable. And when they're allied to The Pals' magnificent sonic fire power they're clearly onto a winner.
'Good Karma Cafe', then, is an establishment of finesse and taste. Whether it will become a widespread stopping-off point on the rock'n'roll map remains to be seen, but its' menu is scrumptious and the proprietors are good enough to wow all-comers from Mississippi to Malmo. I'd recommend heading in for a late breakfast and staying awhile when the opportunity arises as you may well find yourself becoming a regular.