AS A MEMBER of the Old Cynics Club, I should hate the unabashedly upbeat summer swing of Let’s Make Love Come True, the much-anticipated full-length debut from Monarques. The Portland band is self-releasing the record on July 10, after several years of widely praised live shows, performing as a finalist on A Prairie Home Companion’s 2010 Battle of the Bands, and flirting with major record labels. Frontman Josh Spacek (formerly of Oh Captain, My Captain), whose voice is a youthful, yearning mixture of Clyde McPhatter and George Michael, is so completely over the top in his exuberance that he sounds half crazy—like some desperate man shouting positive affirmations on a freeway overpass. And when you Saran-wrap his Pollyanna proselytizing in bouncy, doo-wop pop that would seem better suited to a Sha Na Na album, it’s a lot for a curmudgeonly critic to take in. But when I found myself whistling “Hidin’ Out” for some 12 straight hours, I knew my gloomy goose was cooked.
It would be easy to dismiss Monarques as cheery doo-wop revivalists, but it wouldn’t be accurate. Far from being a mere sunshine sloganeer, Spacek is obviously a man struggling with personal growth, using songwriting to process the mistakes he’s made and the resulting pain he’s caused, as in “It’s All Over Now,” “I Can’t Be Saved,” and “Oh No.” The lyrics repeatedly refer to how hard he’s trying to make himself a better person, clearly illustrated in the song “Good Man,” where he asks, “Can I be a good man, with the devil inside? Can I be a good man without you?” Once the listener gets past the wall of “woo-woos,” the cloyingly playful piano, the Motown bass, and the snazzy street-corner harmonizing (the bulk of the album was recorded the old-fashioned way: playing live together in a studio), you begin to realize that Monarques are actually pursuing the modus operandi of one of Spacek’s influences, Brian Wilson: the exorcising of personal demons through melody and optimism. And damn if they don’t pull it off.
Let’s Make Love Come True will no doubt be greeted with labels of “perfect summer soundtrack,” and it’s true—the songs are sunny, upbeat, and catchy as the Ebola virus. But don’t be fooled. Spacek is definitely crooning about love and hope, but like the aforementioned cheerily complicated Beach Boy, it’s also about growing up and coming to terms with the darkness in one’s soul—and somehow transforming that journey into good vibrations.