For some context on how to approach the Philadelphia-based Free Energy as a classic-rock revival band, turn to their recently released video for "Dance All Night," one of the best tracks off sophomore album Love Sign. By slapping the song on top of a smattering of nostalgic clips from '90s teen flick Can't Hardly Wait, they somehow tell us exactly the right story. Free Energy want us to fall back in love with that Cars- and Tom Petty–style '70s rock, but instead of feathered haircuts and rock trench coats, it's filtered through a soft-neon '90s style. Guitarist Scott Wells has that perfect soaring tone to bridge the gap, connecting today's youth with what they would have loved about the good old days. It's almost as if, with "Dance All Night," they remind us of the cooler, more epic love-song moments in late-'70s rock. Unfortunately, that feeling can't hold true throughout the whole album. Like their 2010 hit "Bang Pop," Love Sign dips a little too far into the Fountains of Wayne kiddie pool. Despite a lot of quick, soaring, and crunchy guitar solos, tracks like "Electric Fever," "Girls Want Rock," and "Hangin' " are clean, clappy, and over-produced. "Girls Want Rock" carries a cool synthy vibe, but ends with a self-mocking "na na na." In each instance, it's the solid axe-work that saves them. Some of the finest rockin' is found on "Backscratcher," with a slick Van Halen–esque solo; "Hey Tonight," with clever background noodling; and the throbbing new-wave "True Love." Throughout the radio-friendly Love Sign, singer Paul Spranger uses "tonight" in about 30 different rhyme schemes and shows his preference for party yelling over vocal harmonies. But that brings us right back to Can't Hardly Wait, so it's not all bad.
SEAN CORBETT » CORBETT.SEAN@GMAIL.COM