Frosting On The Beater

The Posies

Geffen, 1993

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


The same year that Frosting On The Beater came out, Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow of The Posies were announced as new members filling out the lineup of the reunited Big Star led by co-founders Alex Chilton and Jody Stephens. And while that reunion/relaunching was an unexpected development, the choice of Auer and Stringfellow to join Big Star feels like a punchline delivered by Captain Obvious. For anyone who doesn’t know what the Posies sound like—and there are unfortunately plenty of you out there—the best answer I can offer is, “like Big Star never broke up.”

Formed in 1986 as a vehicle for the songs of singer-songwriter-multi-instrumentalists Auer and Stringfellow, The Posies were already something approaching a Big Star tribute band, delivering tight, energetic power-pop, that distinctive subgenre characterized by catchy, muscular guitar riffs, abundant vocal harmonies, and yearning, downbeat lyrics. This particular outing finds The Posies’ brand of power pop at its boldest and most muscular, occasionally channeling the reckless spirit of iconic ’80s power-poppers The Replacements.

Frosting On The Beater is frequently cited as a high point in the Posies catalogue, and it’s not hard to hear why. There’s a certain keening tone to the lead vocals and close harmonies that immediately brings Alex Chilton and company to mind, but on Frosting the guitars are turned up all the way, delivering hooky guitar-rock whose occasional heaviness never eclipses their melodic core.

The opening trio—“Dream All Day” into “Solar Sister” into “Flavor Of The Month”—feels like a clinic in single-writing as taught by Big Star, Teenage Fanclub, XTC, and the rest of the post-Beatles power-pop firmament. “Dream” leads with big guitars, the band announcing itself to the world again, before Dave Fox (bass) and Mike Musburger (drums) throw down, creating a dynamic contrast between the pushing-pulling rhythm section, crunchy guitars, and rich, swirling harmonies. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

“Solar Sister” ups the catchiness quotient further yet, burnishing the guitars to a Gin Blossoms shine while Stringfellow and Auer harmonize beautifully over the top. Then “Flavor” offers a sarcastic jab at the label types pushing them to write a single by writing the catchiest one yet, marrying ringing REM-ish guitars to powerful unison vocals while counter-pointing that one-two punch with Badfinger-esque melancholy.  

The thrashy chaos factor increasingly creeps in over the course of the next few tunes. First “Love Letter Boxes” interrupts a lean into the band’s melodic side with a shearing, discordant solo section; then “Definite Door” delivers an almost punky heaviness under the pretty harmonies soaring above. “Burn & Shine” brings this dichotomy to a head with coiled rhythms under distorted guitars, extending the tension through a pair of increasingly unhinged solo sections, the second of which evolves into an over-generous jam that finally cuts off abruptly at 6:51.

Naturally, “Earlier Than Expected” follows with gentle harmonies, a mid-tempo, rather idealistic tribute to young women leaders who will “face the tempest of tomorrow.” Then “20 Questions” sets a series of philosophical musings to a circular melody given extra dimension by Stringfellow’s Hammond organ accents. Memory takes the forefront as Stringfellow revisits his brutal middle-school years on the churning, anguished “When Mute Tongues Can Speak” and Auer recounts the trials and tribulations or touring in a van on “Lights Out.” The latter lays in the weeds, airy and quiet until they plug in at 1:45 and blast you out of your seat with heavy distortion; at 3:25 it turns into a raucous, celebratory jam.

If there’s such a thing as an emphatic dirge, “How She Lied By Living” is it, an angry tribute to, and argument with, Stefanie Sargent of 7 Year Bitch, a friend and contemporary of Stringfellow’s who died as a result of heroin and alcohol at just 24. The album closes out with the evocative, rhythm-section-less “Coming Right Along,” all bold, restless chords behind Auer’s gently menacing vocals.

(The deluxe edition of this album issued by Omnivore adds more than two dozen demos, unreleased songs, studio goofs, and tracks culled from contemporaneous releases. It’s a treasure trove for the diehard Posies fan, illustrating in voluminous detail how the band draws from sometimes disparate threads of power pop, garage rock, hard rock, and glam, though for the casual listener it may be too much of a good thing.)

Frosting On The Beater was the moment when The Posies ascended from enthusiastic aficionados of power-pop to three-dimensional artists, delivering a set of genuinely original songs that pulled and stretched at their chosen form in a way that ensured their impact would be a lasting one. In the 30 years since, Auer and Stringfellow have enjoyed prolific careers veering between the mother ship of The Posies, solo work, a 15-year run with Big Star, and other collaborations. If you only have room for one Posies album in your collection, though, this is an excellent choice.

Rating: A-

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 2022 Jason Warburg and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Geffen, and is used for informational purposes only.