RARE BUT WELL DONE: (Overlooked Album Review): The Connells: Ring (1993)

31 Aug

Ever wonder why some bands make it big while others don’t? I do. And no band has ever confused me with its lack of commercial success more than the Connells. Ring is the album that should have made these guys a household name.

The Connells really don’t do anything fancy. They play basic bittersweet southern guitar pop with lovely melodies and lyrics that generally focus on relationships. Certainly, you’re not going to find anything on Ring that would have sounded too weird to fans of lesser bands who  sold more records like the Gin Blossoms or Hootie and the Blowfish. The elements that always set the Connells apart from other acts mining this vein are the uniformly crisp playing and the sweet piped vocals of Doug MacMillan. Oh yeah, and lest we overlook the obvious, album after album of really terrific songs.

Although all of the band’s pre-Ring albums are recommended, this is unquestionably their best effort–a record that consolidates and builds upon the strengths of its predecessors. The opening track “Slackjawed” stands as one of the best power pop singles of the 90’s, maybe ever. Built on a driving beat, stellar vocal and a great guitar line its the type of number that sounds familiar after one listen and still sounds fresh several years later. Its followed by “Carry My Picture,” which is tougher yet nearly as catchy and the album just takes off from there. Throughout, the band shows its trademark knack for lovely ballads (“,74-,75” and “Disappointed” being standouts) and killer lyrics (“Doin’ you is like doin’ time”) as well as that trademark jangly southern guitar pop. There’s not a weak track in the bunch.

Yet, somehow, although Ring was a minor college radio hit, saw some MTV airplay on 120 minutes and got the band booked on at least one network late night show (see above), it failed to make much of a dent in the popular consciousness . Meanwhile Hootie, the Gin Blossoms, Goo-Goo Dolls and others  struck gold. Last I knew, the Connells still exist, more or less, although they don’t seem to get out of North Carolina much. Post-Ring, they just sort of faded away along with that classic college guitar rock sound, although they put out the occasional solid album into the 21st Century. To this day I  haven’t met a person who, upon hearing Ring doesn’t immediately ask “Hey, who’s this? They’re really good!” Explain that one.

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