Review: Decades of Philip B. Price of Winterpills

This past year Winterpills member and Northampton-based singer-songwriter Phillip B. Price remastered a dozen of his past solo albums recorded from 1988 to 2004, which had never seen the light of day.

With a back catalogue of more than a hundred songs to choose from, Price released his own hand picked greatest hits collection called, Without Your Love I’d Be Nowhere At All: 1988- 2004. This is a 39-song double record that’s staggering in its breath of genres — from Beatles-esque pop, experimental art rock, dancey post punk, to heartbreaking depressingly beautiful ballads, and electronica-fueled alternative rock.

With so many songs in this collection, the obvious questions is how do you review such a behemoth collection of someone’s life’s works? Start from the beginning, of course.

“Stephen’s House,” from Price’s 1988 album, Vitamin is an acoustic post-punk ballad with ragged youthful dreams dragged through the dirt. It’s disillusionment and angst wrapped in a time capsule of 1980s weirdo outcast alternative rock a la The Replacements. Other songs from this era of Price’s discography include the sublimily psychedelic XTC-ish “Modern Man,” and “Violin Of Me” a techno cyberpunk-sounding experimental song that belongs in an art house science fiction movie.

“Silver of Gold” from 1989’s Goodbye Bambi Manor is like a surrealist alternate universe version of Elvis Costello joining forces with Devo. This is pure post-punk rock that’ll have you banging your head along.

Now, moving onto songs from Price’s 1990 record E is the distorted goth rock meets power pop title track, and the heartbreakingly beautiful acoustic-driven pop song “America.”

The lyrics on “America” are ambiguous and seem to be about a love/hate relationship with the U.S., but with an absurdist sense of humor. “Selling people like animals/ Trying to get the better price/ I will never be an animal/ Wait, I can feel myself thinking twice/ Burning holes in the sides of buildings/ Trying to look at what’s inside/ Maybe someone locked their keys in?/ Maybe someone’s selling drugs?”

“Bergen St. Totally” from Price’s 1992 album, Show & Tell is a more or less straightforward Beatles-esque meets R.E.M. pop song. The chorus is damn catchy though and is a certifiable earworm. “Tell Mr. Goldstein, It Isn’t Enough,” also from that record, is psych-folk rock with plenty of jangle pop goodness. It’s minimalistic in its musical arrangment without being boring.

And then there’s “the Incredible Dissolving House of Love” from 1999’s “Duct-Tape Tight,” which is basically a neo-psychedelia satire of flower power 1960s rock bands. It’s not as much cynical Frank Zappa as it is throwing some realistic shade on the naive optimism of bands like Love, Moby Grape, and, of course, the Beatles.

“Cold Nickels” from 2002’s 13 Songs for Right Now is the more depressing side of Price’s work in line with Elliott Smith’s songwriting sensibilities. There’s grandiose strings that emphasize a sense of world weariness.

“Looking through me/ Thought you knew me/ I’m not blind/ No, not tonight/ No good advice/ I’m going somewhere you can’t find me.”

One of the highlights of the collection is “Criminal” from 2003’s Honey in the Chemicals — a Beatles-esque pop song with lush backing guitar and piano arrangements and an infectious upbeat melody that cuts into your psyche.

“Get Drunk and Love Me” from 2004’s Come Through This  is one of the most heartbreaking songs on this collection. It’s an acoustic ballad that’s emotionally naked and raw to the core. The instrumentation is sparse — acoustic guitar, vocals, and a brief harmonica solo, and some added backing vocals.

The song itself is about someone contemplating divorce; with the repeated phrase “get drunk and love me” underpinning the tragedy of the narrator’s situation of being unfulfilled romantically. The melody twists your heartstrings and the lyrics double up that effort.

Philip B. Price’s songs in this collection range the gamut of emotions and styles and the best part is that you can listen to his evolution as a songwriter. Price’s earlier work is understandably a little dated at this point, but there’s some charm to it that you can either take or leave. There’s a lot to love with this collection; it’s not all pop perfection, but it’s awe inspiring to see a local songwriter dedicated to his craft through the decades.

To listen to or purchase Phillip B. Price’s collection visit philipbprice.bandcamp.com. 

Chris Goudreau can be reached at cgoudreau@valleyadvocate.com.

 

Author: Chris Goudreau

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