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Reveille Magazine review of Ashtray Rock

A great review of Ashtray Rock written by Rob van Alstyne – Monday, 16 July 2007 ( )

The trials of adolescence have always been prime fodder for rock music. Melancholic nostalgia for underage keggers and teenaged love has been the driving force behind more than its fair share of anthems whether deemed cool (The Hold Steady’s “Massive Nightsâ€Â?) or not so cool (Bryan Adams “Summer of ‘69â€Â?) by the critical establishment. It’s one thing to write a song about days gone by and teenaged band aspirations, however, and very much another to shape a whole concept album around the premise. Canadian rock mainstay Joel Plaskett opts for the latter on his band’s most recent work, Ashtray Rock, a gripping pop platter that revolves entirely around the story arc of a high school-aged band and its eventual love-triangle-fueled demise.

A rock ‘n’ roll lifer active on the Canadian scene since his ‘90s days fronting hard-rock acolytes Thrush Hermit, Plaskett’s spent much of the last 15 years in vans, at dank bars, and in practice spaces. It makes him the ideal wizened storyteller to reflect back on the nascent days of his love affair with rock music. Moving beyond the ‘70s hard rock style that defined prior albums by his band, Plaskett willfully toys with myriad sounds and styles on Ashtray Rock�going so far as to throw in a cheeky doo wop tribute (“Penny For Your Thoughts�)�while tying all the far flung genre experimentation together with his slightly unhinged and always impassioned tenor.

On the toast to adolescent debauchery “Drunk Teenagers,� Plaskett nails the volatile mixture of wide-eyed passion and complete apathy that typify the mentality of many a 19-year-old rock ‘n’ roller, with lyrics that simultaneously point out their grand ambitions, and substantially smaller accomplishments (“I need to make my mark out here in the wilderness. / Yeah, I need to take a piss.�) Set to fuzzed out, overdriven electric guitars of the Thin Lizzy school, “Drunk Teenagers� is the kind of power pop that will quicken the pulse of anyone unafraid of shamelessly big hooks and equally silly wordplay (“Imagine if that lake was beer / Imagine if that rock was hash / A supernatural science class.�)

Part of what makes Ashtray Rock’s trip so engaging is Plaskett’s ability to marry each new lyrical chapter of the story to appropriately shifted musical terrain. “Fashionable People� rides a stuttering disco-lite groove during its verses as Plaskett’s rocker kid protagonist finds himself at the wrong kind of party, with “fashionable people doing questionable things� whose “parents are ridiculously loaded�; it’s the perfect song to dress up with silly keyboard overdubs and slightly sleazy sounding guitar figures, and Plaskett gleefully goes about the task.

By the time the album’s story of betrayals and recriminations comes to a close the listener has been exposed to bitter kiss offs (“Nothing More to Sayâ€Â?), sincere apologies (“Chinatown/For the Recordâ€Â?) and warm and fuzzy reminiscences (“Soundtrack for the Nightâ€Â?); mandolins have been plucked and sweeping orchestral passages deployed; an altogether epic journey and impressive achievement for an album that barely skirts past the 40-minute mark. The rough and tumble adolescent journey laid out by Plaskett on Ashtray Rock provides proof that in the right hands, nostalgia remains one of the most powerful driving forces in the rock ‘n’ roll canon.