In classic pop of the Brian Wilson/Harry Nilsson variety -- the kind that has influenced everything from †70s power pop to the more contemporary exploits of Panda Bear, the Ruby Suns, et al -- youthful naïvete is a big part of the package. Without that boyish innocence, songs like "Wouldn't It Be Nice" would seem rather creepy. That's what makes New York songwriter Mark Bacino's accomplishment on Queens English such a welcome anomaly. Bacino is the sort who has assimilated pop in all its forms, from Burt Bacharach to Squeeze, and his first two albums aren't lacking in sparkling melodic moments, but Queens English proves that it's possible to introduce actual maturity into pop with no adverse effects. Full of semi-autobiographical songs, Bacino's third album tells of forsaking the bright lights of the big city for the semi-suburban lifestyle of the outer boroughs to start a family. The real masterstroke, though, is that he imbues these topics with that same sense of wonder at the heart of all great pop songs. Whether he's singing about an expectant mother ("Muffin in the Oven"), a mother and father (Bacino's parents) staking their claim on the world ("Angeline & the Bensonhurst Boy"), the ups and downs of new parenthood ("Camp Elmo," "Ballad of M & LJ"), or the simple joy of living ("Happy"), he mates his lyrics with elegant, light-as-a-feather melodies redolent of McCartney/Emitt Rhodes at their most reflective. The fact that Bacino also manages to pull this off without ever seeming cloying or overly earnest makes his feat all the more impressive, and ultimately fills the listener with a sense of optimism for the future of pure pop music made by full-fledged adults.
- J. Allen, All Music Guide
Lest one get the wrong impression, Queens English refers not to some attempt to emulate Anglo influences, but rather to the New York borough that Mark Bacino calls home. "I was born, I was raised/Seven blocks away...," he declares on "Middle Town," one of several songs that contribute to the concept arc of this exceedingly upbeat LP. As it is, Bacino's been circulating below the surface for several years now, his two previous albums, Pop Job... The Long Player! and The Million Dollar Milkshake staking his claim as a pop pundit of the first order. And while Queens English varies very little from those initial endeavors, it does ring with exuberance and enthusiasm that often seems out of sync with these troubled times. If that's the residual effect that comes with living in the ‘hood, so be it. Over the course of ten songs and its old-timey introduction, the album captures the rush and exhilaration of his urban environs, from the uptown horns that drive such songs as the unapologetically giddy "Happy," the snappy "Angeline & the Bensonhurst Boy," the rowdy, rambunctious title track, or the purely effusive "Middle Town."
Bacino maintains a signature style, but he's not bashful when it comes to miming others as well. There are hints of a wistful Ray Davies echoing through "Camp Elmo," the arched attitude of Elvis Costello in "Middle Town," as well as the amiable wit and reflection of James Taylor and Randy Newman underscoring "Ballad of M&LJ" and "Who Are Yous?" respectively. All in all, they make Queens English an especially engaging outing, and one that speaks volumes about Bacino's abilities.
- Lee Zimmerman, Blurt Magazine
NYC-area power popster Mark Bacino takes a slight detour through baroqueville on his latest release, the semi-autobiographical Queens English, with satisfying results. After the bubblegummy pop of his first two discs, QE finds Bacino fashioning a personalized, fanciful, Harry Nilsson-influenced song cycle about life in the Big Apple (and in case the Nilsson influence is not obvious from listening, “Harry” is thanked in the notes for “motivation/inspiration.”). It’s Bacino’s most consistent disc yet in terms of both songwriting and cohesiveness, and is quite entertaining.
After a brief prelude, the forceful, impossibly catchy title track gets things going in the right direction straight away; it’s the only true power pop number on the record and perhaps the best thing Bacino’s ever recorded. From that point on, things take a mellower turn, with winning melodies, subtle string and horn touches and Bacino’s gently persuasive vocals working together to create some magic.
From an unplanned pregnancy (“Muffin in the Oven”), raising an infant (“Camp Elmo”) and a sweet ‘n’ snappy nostalgic number about his parents (“Angeline & the Bensonhurst Boy”) to tunes about his ‘hood (the vaguely Elvis Costello-ish “Middle Town”) and spending time with his young son (“Ballad of M & LJ”), Queens English takes the listener on a nice little sonic journey through Bacino’s world. By the time things wrap up with the “hey you kids, get offa my lawn” vibe of “Who are Yous,” it’s clear that this is not only a solid record, but one that no doubt means a lot to Mark Bacino.
- John M. Borack, Goldmine Magazine
3rd solo long player for this NYC guy (the first two were on Parasol, a good home for him) who manages to hit about every pop genre on these 11 songs and he does it well. Think of it more in the Randy Newman, Harry Nilsson and occasionally Elvis Costello too vain (he appears to be a Ray Davies fan as well, then again, aren't we all?). The title track is terrific as is the swingin’ “Muffin in the Oven”, the ebullient “Happy”, the gushing “Middle Town”, the jittery “Angeline & the Bensonhurst Boy” and plenty more. Bacino isn't just some hipster doing this until something better comes along, the guy is a pop songsmith who writes these kind of songs because they are in his blood. He probably has a deep history of the genre (from Brill Building on forward) and wants to make his own little dent in the musical timeline. Another pro here is that Bacino doesn't wear out his welcome as these 11 songs breeze by in under 27 minutes. QUEENS ENGLISH proves that he can hang with the big boys and definitely deserves more attention than he gets.
- Tim Hinely, Dagger Magazine
I received several comments about the order of my Top 25 list for last year... and I started second guessing myself. So I went back and listened to my list. What a great year in Power Pop it was! I also confirmed my top choice.
For me the new effort by Mark Bacino takes top honors. "Queens English" is simply the best written and fully realized Power Pop project of 2010. Mark successfully channels 1960s and 1970s American pop tradition into present day. I hear lots of Harry Nilsson references. Lots of Beatles and Beach Boys influenced tunes. The album is beautifully arranged with nice brass and strings throughout. It also sounds great too. Mark has a business in music production and has turned it up on his own project. If you regularly check-in with this blog and don't have this album, stop right now and go get it!
Some of the highlights. "Queens English" is a nice rocker recalling "Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting". "Happy" is the first of three tracks influenced by Harry Nilsson. (Harry seems like a big influence on Mark.) "Muffin in the Oven" sounds like Owsley's "Uncle John's Farm" (which always sounded like "Saturday in the Park" by Chicago to me.) "Camp Elmo" is the second of the Harry Nilsson type tracks. One of the best tracks."Angeline and the Bensonhurst Boy" is another of my favorites. A nice mid-tempo shuffle with a great Jellyfish refrain. "Bridge & Tunnel" is the third Nilsson track. "Blue Suit" is a sleeper and another favorite of mine. It's an acoustic Bossa Nova number that sounds like some of the more recent efforts by Nashville band Swandive
All and all a great album! Can't get enough.
- Haper, Pop Fair
From "The Best Albums of 2010"...
Mark Bacino - "Queens English". Mark takes us on a whirlwind tour of every classic pop singer/songwriter we've grown up with without stealing from any of his (or our) idols (apart from maybe Harry Nilsson, but nobody else does and maybe should?). However Mark very much makes this his own. This almost perfect pop album only narrowly missed our Jukebox Top 16, absolute best of 2010.
- Power Pop Review (UK)
Mark Bacino: "Queens English" For Domesticated Souls
Two of the absolute best pure pop records from 2010 have been by ex-teeny bop princes Hanson, and little known Queens native Mark Bacino. The former, a hit at Bamboozle, continues to churn out spectacular under-appreciated albums such as Shout It Out while the latter has casually scattered a mere three recordings over a dozen years. Inexorably, both Hanson and Bacino identify with many post-Beatles ‘70s-related pop elements such as bright melodic hooks, urgent harmonic pleas, capricious piano strolls and raspy brass bursts.
Though it’s hard to choose Bacino’s latest endeavor over the “Mm-Bop”-propelled brotherly trio, the St. John’s University grad’s melancholy love letter to New York City, Queens English, surely ranks high. An uncompromisingly straight-ahead conventionality, better suited for ‘70s singer-songwriter types than today’s emotional hardcore brats, affirmatively affects his rhapsodic Big Apple paeans and evocatively reflective limericks.
On Bacino's ’98 debut, Pop Job, the apprenticing multi-instrumentalist placed loud guitars and keyboard embellishments inside a straight-up power pop setting. 2003’s latent follow-up, Million Dollar Milkshake, broadened his scope, bringing a nifty bubblegum sensibility to the retro guitar-driven romps, giving horns and strings a bigger role.
Now married with a son, the ripened troubadour returns with his best effort yet. Brought up on Queens English - not the kind learned from British magnates but instead a hardened city dwellers’ vernacular - the native New Yorker has fattened up the increasingly dynamic arrangements.
Though he’s definitely one to wear his influences on his sleeve, Bacino’s thrillingly bashed title track ingeniously morphs iconic ‘70s figures. He distinctly and instinctively cobbles together Dave Edmunds’ lusty pub rock stank, Big Star’s mollycoddled arena rock fervor, Roy Wood’s coliseum-sized art-rock pastiche, and Kiss’ party-starting “Shout It Out Loud” exclamation. One listen will convince anyone of the man’s skillful eclecticism and detailed scoring.
But his embracing resourcefulness doesn’t stop there. Distantly recalling unheralded singer-songwriter Emmit Rhodes’ sarcastic piano saunter, “Happy,” plies a tuba-sounding French horn to caroused Carnaby Street quaintness. Next, the brassy “Muffin In The Oven” could be mistaken for Chicago if not for Bacino’s soothingly soft cocktail lounge baritone. Then, there’s a few balladic weepers redolent of stylish interpretive singer, Nilsson: maudlin heartsick memento “Camp Elmo” and poignant Classical commuter swoon “Bride & Tunnel.” He even touches upon light Jazz with delicate acoustic strummer, “Blue Suit,” a mild number that reaches nasally Elvis Costello lamenting nearly as well as reminiscing yarn “Middle Town” does.
Despite the retro musical tendencies, Bacino’s lyrical hometown stories certainly prove he has his finger firmly on the pulse of modern day vagaries. His trusty domesticated treatises and frizzy photographic furloughs give the listener a precise inner city panorama any indigenous New Yorker should comprehend.
- John Fortunato, The Aquarian Weekly
"New York," John Gregory Dunne once wrote, "is at once cosmopolitan and parochial, a compendium of sentimental certainties. It is in fact the most sentimental of the world's great cities." Singer/songwriter and New York native Mark Bacino must have been feeling Dunne's sentimentality when he was recording his new album because his third long player 'Queens English' is nothing short of an aural love letter to New York City; a moving song cycle that manages to capture what F. Scott Fitzgerald once described as, "...the wild promise of all the mystery and the beauty in the world."
Armed with the kind of varsity pop smarts that rank him alongside folks like Marshall Crenshaw, Jason Falkner and Graham Parker, Mark Bacino knows how to throw a right pop hook. Over the course of two infectious albums Bacino has proven that not only does he have depth and range, he's in possession of a seemingly indefatigable supply of catchy tunes. Although Billy Bragg once warned the third album is the real difficult one, Bacino has shrugged that warning aside and made the album of his career.
Although it has plenty of the punchy pop that Bacino has become known for ("Queens English", "Middle Town") 'Queens English' is an album of tremendous musical depth and lyrical sensitivity. The wistful "Ballad of M & LJ" centers around palling around with your kid ("We might eat three ice cream cones/We might even listen to The Kinks/When your mommy's not home") but it brings to mind a sentiment brought up by Raymond Carver in "Bicycles, Muscles, Cigarettes," when a young boy says to his father before he goes to sleep: "Dad? You'll think I'm pretty crazy, but I wish I'd known you when you were little." Meanwhile, the horn-powered, playfully sardonic "Happy" suggests Randy Newman; "Muffin In The Oven" reveals the thought process of a woman who's just learned she's pregnant and "Angeline And The Bensonhurst Boy" is a touching love story. Later, the strings of "Bridge And Tunnel" bring a sense of romance to a series of observations about one's home turf and the album closer "Who Are Yous" sums up the city and the self and finds that they're one and the same.
- Alex Green, Caught in the Carousel
For real, true, honest-to-goodness New Yorkers, there is no other place to live. Which doesn't explain why I consider myself a lifelong New Yorker (well, New Yawker) even though I currently live in Virginia.
Ugh. It's hard to explain. I grew up on Long Island--spent my first 21 years there, in fact. I moved to Delaware to be a radio deejay, met my wife there, spent four years there, got married, moved back to New York for 10 years. Got sick of living in New York (Brooklyn, to be exact), got a job offer in VIrginia, packed up my wife and belongings and hit the 95 corridor for a new life. Been in that new life for almost 21 years and I'm still adjusting, still making peace with my decision.
I rarely go back to New York these says, but when I do I always feel like I never left. It's like putting on an old suit that fits like nobody's business. It just feels right.
I know that's barely an explanation, but I don't know how else to say it other than there's nothing like a pretzel and hot nuts from a vendor cart in New York City. There's nothing like a walk in Central Park. Or a Nathan's hot dog from a Nathan's establishment. And no, Nathan's hot dogs from the supermarket don't taste the same.
Come to think of it, there's a certain taste to New York. And a certain smell. Taste and smell that collectively rolls over any other location suitable for living in the United States. It's dripping from every 1 and 0 of Mark Bacino's melodically and culturally-rich Queens English, an album that explains everything I've just said in a more poetic way than I ever could. But I know where he's coming from, that's for sure.
It's all there in the gorgeous old-world style of "Bridge and Tunnel," a luscious ballad worthy of Sinatra and Nilsson and the whole lot of those crooner types. "Make Manhattan disappear/'Cause no one's really from here," Bacino sings, and it's the truth, just as it is in Washington, DC. No one's actually from New York City. People work there, sure; people sightsee there; people meet and greet there. In fact, '...the butt of all their jokes/Are the wheels and the spokes...of the city," meaning the people who live in city's five boroughs and on Long Island. It's the everybody else that makes the city, man, and Bacino sings it loud and clear.
In "Middle Town," Bacino sings of the hard day in the city town that inevitably leads to the vision of sitting on the stoops of the middle town that's not the city town but, rather, your town. Here, the focus is on a person who's "...never bothered, never cared/Never chased the fad, in that city town," where, in the middle town "...there's just some kids and they're running 'round/Chasing Softee down." Growing up, the sound of Mr. Softee's ice cream truck coming down our street was the sound of heaven opening up and the angels coming down to share a lick with us. A vanilla cone? You bet! Come here and let me sell you a swirl, son!
"How noble it is to survive.../And hold your ground/In your middle town," Bacino sings, a place where all of the good things in life happen, like being happy, like having a "Muffin in the Oven," even though you're not sure you're ready for one or for the incessant song that accompanies life in "Camp Elmo," the realization of the truth of a rugrat in the house, changing everything. "Living here in Camp Elmo," Bacino sings, "Where hanging on means letting go/So trade in all your dreams/And sign up for the team/It's easier in Camp Elmo." It's easier because it's the real life one gives into when one realizes he can't go drinking at night or out about the town when the baby needs feeding and changing, when the spotlight is on the real residents of Camp Elmo.
In the middle town, the blue suit is king. It's worn at funerals, at weddings, at communions, at bar mitzvahs and along the way it gets frayed and tired, like a man working two jobs to pay the bills. In the middle town, as Bacino explains in "Blue Suit," the fabric of a man's life has "...seen my worst and better days/Probably wear it one last day/Say goodbye and go our way..." In the middle town, like any town, the blue can, and sometimes must, turn to gray.
"Who are yous?" Bacino asks during the bittersweet closing number, and in this case it's you and yous sitting on a couple of lawn chairs with a beer, listening to the game, when who comes along but the muffin now out of the oven and everything changes. But, at the same time, as the sound of a Mr. Softee truck plays out Queens English, sometimes nothing changes at all. Especially if you've been in your middle town long enough.
I realize that I have been in a middle town for the past 21 years--a middle town that is not really mine, so there is no sitting on the stoop with a beer listening to the game. That will come back to me soon enough. But for those of you and yous who are in your middle towns, towns that speak to you, that care for you, that heal your wounds, the bridge and the tunnel will deliver you to paradise. Bacino's magnificent album, with all of the characters who make up his middle town, proves that home is where the heart is, and this is the soundtrack to their lives.
- Alan Haber, Buhdge
May 2010 sees the release, via the newly formed DreamCrush label, of Mark Bacino's third album. Mark describes 'Queens English' as 'a melancholy love-letter to NYC & life in its outer-boroughs.' What immediately stands out is that while the new album is more grown up than its predecessors it loses none of the joyous melodies and infectious joy. The influences; such as Randy Newman, Harry Nilsson, Brian Wilson ring out but don't overwhelm Mark's own style. There are a wealth of great tracks; from the bouncy bubblegum of the titular track to 'Camp Elmo' which deserves to be in a Pixar movie. From the wonderfully laid back 'Bridge and Tunnel' and the fantastic brass in 'Muffin in the Oven'. 'Queens English' snares you on the first listen and doesn't release its right grip. A contender for the top of the Albums of 2010.
- Matt Whitby, Pop Underground
Back in the late ‘90s, Mark Bacino’s "Pop Job… The Long Player" album caused quite a stir in the world’s small but perfectly formed power pop community. He followed it up with 2003’s "Million Dollar Milkshake" record, and now, a mere seven years later, he’s returned to the fray with his new album, "Queens English". It’s heartening to report that over time Bacino hasn’t lost his touch.
The New York native gets things going (after a short prelude) with the title track, a Dolls’ style romp and love letter to the borough he calls home – it’s an early highlight. It’s followed by the piano and brass of “Happy”, which has much the same effect on the listener. My favourite, “Muffin In The Oven” is a terribly clever pop song; the sort of thing that should be a hit all over the western world, if the western world had any sense at all when it comes to popular music. That old adage about the cream rising to the top is absolute bollocks when you consider that there’s 500+ albums being released daily and there’s nowhere for 490+ to be reviewed or written about. We do our bit, but another old adage about a piss in the ocean seems pertinent.
If you’re a fan of classic pop songwriters like McCartney or Harry Nilsson, and you find yourself drawn to old Raspberries or Badfinger records, you should be all over this like a rash - but of course, all we can really do is recommend you track "Queens English" down. You’re reading this, which indicates you’re online, so you’ve really no excuse.
- Rob F., Leicester Bangs (UK)
Two things spring to mind instantly here. First, this ain't no conventional pop record that you might've expected after ‘98’s Pop Job and ‘03’s The Million Dollar Milkshake, and second, this one's the best! After the 30 second intro, the title tune's rootsy power-pop romp still doesn't suggest too much of a change, but it’s with the following ‘Happy’ that things start to twist. It shares the same good time music-hall vibe as The Sopwith Camel’s ‘Hello Hello’, which gets revisited a few more times throughout the album, and in case that's not non-conventional enough, there's the moody jazz feel of ‘Bridge and Tunnel’ and ‘Blue Suit’. The one that should appeal the most to those looking for more Pop Job is ‘Muffin in the Oven’; the perfect little soundtrack to summer, destined to rule the charts all over the globe ... if only given a proper chance. Be among the ones to make it happen.
- Goran Obradovic, Bucketfull of Brains (UK)
It’s been seven years since Bacino’s last long-player, The Million Dollar Milkshake, so those of you who haven't forgotten the happy bubblegum sounds on that album may not be surprised to find that Mr. Bacino has grown up quite a bit on this long player, as Queens English can be viewed as an oft melancholy slide show of the boroughs of New York City, particularly the titular reference. Queens English is bathed in strings, softly dramatic brass, and lots of Nilsson/Newman-esque musical references, which work well on the somewhat sardonic “Happy,” “Muffin In The Oven,” and the lullaby, “Camp Elmo”. To be sure, there are some reminders of the “old days,” such as the modern bubblegummy title track, and the Costello-ish “Middle Town,” but Queens English is definitely a new and vital stepping stone in the career of Mark Bacino. Definitely worth checking out.
- David Bash, Shindig! (UK)
A straight shot of melodic pop/rock from New York's Mark Bacino. Queens English is a cool collection of original songs reminiscent of classic artists from the past...most notably Elvis Costello and Harry Nilsson (Bacino's voice sometimes reminds us very much of Pearlfishers). For an underground artist, Mark's music is exceedingly commercial and accessible. Instead of writing and recording difficult artsy music, Mark instead opts to pen tunes that the average listener can listen to and appreciate. Hummable catchy tunes...smooth inviting vocals...smart arrangements...what more could you ask for? Eleven smart pop cuts including "Queens English," "Camp Elmo," "Middle Town," and "Who Are Yous?" Neat stuff with pep.
- babysue Magazine
A Slice Of Queens In Grown-Up CD
For a borough used to melancholy artistic interpretations of its status as “one of those other boroughs,” singer/songwriter Mark Bacino has managed to scrape together enough pride to take Queens seriously.
The Glendale native’s latest album, “Queens English,” uses our borough as the backdrop for a sincere exploration of growing up and growing old – but not disillusioned.
“This is somewhat of a very personal record for me,” Bacino said. “It’s describing the sort of things I went through for the last seven years, melded together with the outer borough life.”
Since the release of his last record, 2003’s “Million Dollar Milkshake,” Bacino swapped his Manhattan digs for a Middle Village home, got hitched, started a family and started up his own label, DreamCrush.
“Queens English” follows Bacino’s journey from the appropriately tongue-in-cheek kiss offs to Manhattan to an exploration of love, marriage and fatherhood.
“It felt kind of natural to kind of be writing about a theme or have a continuous narrative in the new record,” Bacino said. “A couple of tunes in, I realized this is what the record is supposed to be.”
The thematic narrative of the album, as well as its inherent heaviness, is a noted departure for Bacino. Before the album, he was known for lighthearted pop of a bygone era when soda fountains and V8 engines were common.
The record’s maturity, (Bacino balks at the term “concept album”) has driven away some of the fans expecting more teenage love pleas and innocence.
Instead, “Queens English” provides a tender glimpse at life for the 42-year-old.
There is the man’s realization he is now an exhausted father in “Camp Elmo” and the sentiment of wearing used threads on your wedding day in “Blue Suit.”
The lyrics, at times more melancholy than the music lets on, reveal a sly depth bordering on coy.
“Sometimes I wake up crying, must be tears of joy I weep/‘Cause I sit right up and count my blessings like sheep,” he sings in “Happy.”
“I think lyrically this record is probably the closest in sort of realizing that creative dream I've come,” Bacino said.
Thankfully, that lyrical maturity has a tendency to promote our borough and downplay the other one… what's it called again? Oh right, Manhattan.
“Make Manhattan disappear/‘Cause no one’s really from here/So give ‘em all a Bronx cheer/Just for me…/‘Cause the butt of all their jokes/Are the wheels and the spokes…of the city,” Bacino sings in “Bridge & Tunnel.”
The album’s cover art even features a stoop, and the back is a Mr. Softee truck.
“I like turning the idea of ‘bridge and tunnel’ on its ear,” he said. “I sort of flip it over, and make it a point of pride. The hard work, the living and the dying of New York City happens here.”
The hardworking nature translates into Bacino’s music career as well. Session work and jingles help pay the bills.
Gone are the days of a vinyl LP or mixed tapes getting passed around. Now, musicians and artists live and die online, full-time. And Bacino has been a hearty adopter of the new norm, reaching fans via social networking sites, blogs and any other means of technology available.
“There's a whole bunch of other things now to sort of reach out to your fan base or people who might be interested in what you do,” he said. “Even seven years ago, none of the social media stuff was in play. The interaction is amped up.”
The interaction, however, has not featured much feedback from the Queens-ites themselves.
“I hope that they identify with it, get some feeling of local pride out of it,” Bacino said. “I think they'll also get the idea that, “Hey, we all are going through the same sort of things.”
- Joseph Orovic, Queens Tribune
In an alternate, Too Poppy universe, you might hear Mark Bacino's latest album "Queens English" soundtracking the latest Meg Ryan-Nora Ephron rom-com or maybe the biggest animated hit of 2020: Toy Story NYC; chronicling Andy's post-college adventures in the big city and his burgeoning domestication as he hunts down his favorite plastic friends so his own kids can experience the magic. You might see Mark on the piano singing his newest single "Happy" surrounded by furry monsters on Sesame Street - a better fit than say "Camp Elmo" despite the title. Most excitingly in this wishful-thinking universe, we'd seen Mark open up for a reunited Jellyfish for a match made in Too Poppy heaven.
I'm not trying to be flippant about Mark's new album. I'm trying to convey the images and feelings it evokes through its sounds, lyrics, and infinite hooks. It's a love story (or better yet, a romantic comedy) to New York with a sonic accompaniment you'd expect from Harry Nilsson. It's a reflection of that inevitable jump from a carefree lifestyle of smoky clubs and debilitating hangovers to one of diapers, stability, and responsibility. It's playful and clever yet pensive and substantive. Mostly, it's respectful of its musical heritage with seemingly deliberate nods to Nilsson, Bacharach, Newman, and Costello while joyfully blazing its own modern path fearlessly void of hipster trappings.
"Queens English" is a record in its purest sense - 11 songs in 26 minutes - and it's a welcome relief from the format-less bloating we tend to see too often in a digital world. You know every second and every note is there for a specific purpose; a precision the purest pop fans can appreciate.
I'm late to the Mark Bacino party. Not only was "Queens English" released this spring, Mark has forged a strong fanbase with his previous, so-called bubblegum releases. So be it because I'm so happy to have bumped into him.
- L. Konfrst, TooPoppy.com
Mark Bacino is playing the role of the Woody Allen of power pop on his latest release, "Queens English". The title is not what you might think of at first - here, "Queens" refers to the famous borough in New York City.
For the unfamiliar, Bacino is a New York-based singer/songwriter who has gained quite the following in the power pop world. If you like his influences, which include The Beatles, Beach Boys, Harry Nilsson, and Randy Newman, odds are you'll appreciate Bacino's brand of music. "Queens English" marks his third album, following 1998's "Pop Job" and 2003's "Million Dollar Milkshake"...geez, has it really been seven years?!
The title track is clearly a runaway standout and a great way to kick off the "Queens English" record. Rocking, witty, and infectiously catchy, power poppers could not ask for more. I wish there were more like this one on the album. He takes an abrupt left turn with the significantly slower "Happy", which is ironically one of the most melancholy tunes in the bunch. "Muffin in the Oven" is classic Bacino and a perfect prelude to "Camp Elmo", where his Nilsson influence really sparkles. In fact this song sounds like something Nilsson could have written for Sesame Street. "Angeline & the Bensonhurst Boy", "Middle Town", and "Who Are Yous?" are some of the strongest highlights on the record for me. Overall, the record seems a bit laid back and downbeat compared to previous efforts, but the slower tunes are still fun to hear as so much thought went into the song structure, harmonies, and horns.
On "Queens English", Bacino weaves his stories of parenthood into a melodic tapestry against the backdrop of New York City. Fans of Bacino will fall in love with "Queens English" in a New York minute. For the rest of you, it might take two minutes, but you'll fall in love with it nonetheless.
iPOD-worthy: 2, 4, 6, 9, 11
- Bill Sullivan, BMF
If anyone ever tells you that power-pop is played out as a genre, and nothing interesting has been said since The Raspberries and Big Star hung up their guitars, you can remind them that the scene is, in fact, burgeoning. And you can use the latest solo offering from the NYC-born singer/songwriter to make your argument.
Bacino has penned a love letter to his hometown on his newest outing and the tunes are about as diverse as you'd expect from a city where you can walk through Chinese, Italian and Irish neighborhoods in just a few blocks. Recommended: "Bridge and Tunnel," a string-driven number for a musical yet to be written.
- John Micek, The Allentown Morning Call
Live Show Preview -
Pete's Candy Store, NYC
August 2, 2010
In the NYC music scene you don't find that many people born and raised in the Big Apple. Curiously enough, most of the REAL New Yorkers aren't even hipsters, did you notice that? They are just regular "civilians" (that's our new way to define "non-hipster" types), like Mark Bacino. So in case you forgot about this, we just wanted to remind you that this hipster thing is mostly an imported phenomenon - Todd P is from friggin' Indiana, for Chrissake!
This being said, Mark Bacino has been making music in his home town for quite some time, releasing his third album just a few weeks ago (the first one in 1998!). He is probably one of the few people in this city who have the right to use the term "B&T" (for the uninitiated, "Bridge and Tunnel"), which is actually the title of a song that graciously enough doesn't (seem to) mock our neighbors from NJ. Mark's music often plays with influences from mainstream pop classics of the 50s & 60s, and finds a more personal chord in sparsely arranged blues ballads like "Blue Suit". Pete's Candy Store's intimate room will be perfect frame for Mark's music to resonate on August 2.
- The Deli NYC
When I first started the Power of Pop – back in 1998 – I focused pretty much on the US Pop Underground which was vibrant at the time. One of its chief proponents was New Yorker Mark Bacino and his wonderfully sweet powerpop album Pop Job, an album which was prominent on my playlist back then.
Five years later, Bacino released Million Dollar Milkshake, which moved me to describe it as “a 12-track journey into the heart of soft pop bliss where the aim is to please, sooth and caress (all in a family-oriented way, of course!) the jaded rock and pop enthusiast”.
Well, it may have been seven long years but on 18th May, that third Bacino album – Queens English – will finally be released and I am glad to report that it’s definitely worth the wait!
It’s been a while since a “traditional” powerpop album has excited me in this way. With Queens English, Bacino has developed his craft even further with the inclusion of baroque instrumentation (strings and horns) to imbue his soft pop leanings with chamber pop elements.
Much of Bacino’s lyrical concepts deal with his family life especially in songs like the jaunty Muffin in the Oven and the cheeky piano ballad Camp Elmo. In fact, there is an altogether welcome absence of angst throughout Queens English, which is indeed refreshing. Songs like the funny rockin’ title track (Queens, NYC not Queen of England, heh!), the music hall-channeling Happy, the lushly orchestrated Bridge and Tunnel and the folk-poppy Ballad of M and LJ, complete this picture of contentment.
Musically, Bacino never strays too far from his strengths, keeping faith with his fabulous melodies and the inspirations of the Kinks, Elvis Costello, Brian Wilson, Burt Bacharach and Jellyfish. Which is fine in my book. If there is only one powerpop album you pick up in 2010, it would have to be Queens English.
- Kevin Mathews, Power of Pop.com
New York's own Mark Bacino is no stranger to power pop greatness. With past efforts like Pop Job...The Long Player! and The Million Dollar Milkshake on my all time great albums list, it was with great anticipation I waited for the next album. Now it's here and proves that Mark has added maturity and gravitas to his songwriting and he hasn't lost his pop mojo in the process. After the idyllic intro we get to the the title track, a love letter to his favorite borough. It's a rockin' jam full of guitars, keys and jubilant pop spirit. Then the album switches gears into a more restrained celebration of domestic bliss starting with the Randy Newmanesque "Happy." Following that is the album's highlight - "Muffin In The Oven" with wonderful horn accents, and a killer guitar solo during the break. "Camp Elmo" and "Bridge & Tunnel" are Harry Nilsson inspired tunes about suburban fatherhood. "Middle Town" and "Ballad of M & LJ" continues the sunny laid back atmosphere of his neighborhood in the folky tradition of John Sebastian. A bit out of place is the ballad "Blue Suit," so somber it threatens the overall positive vibe, but the whimsical perspective of a local old-timer on "Who Are Yous?" redeem things. Fans of Mark's earlier work may be disappointed by the lack of "power" in this pop album, but it stands on its own as an intimate and moving self-portrait. Fans of Paul Simon's NYC centered songs will find much to cherish here. Listen to the album streaming at markbacino.com
- Aaron Kupferberg, Powerpopaholic.com
Mark Bacino's first two albums, ‘Pop Job...The Long Player’ and ‘Million Dollar Milkshake’ are fantastic records. Simple as that. Both releases are chock-full of infectious hooks which stick in the head for days. ‘Million Dollar Milkshake’ could possibly be one of the greatest power pop albums ever.
Bacino's third release, 2010’s ‘Queens English’, presents somewhat of a departure from his earlier bubblegum/power pop sound, presenting him in more of a singer-songwriter guise. It’s not as easy to get into as his first two albums and doesn't always have such a feel-good quality, but its real life vignettes are more than endearing. ‘Queens English’ is named after the New York borough of Queens and the spirit of New York runs through each of the album’s tracks in the same way a seaside town's name runs through a stick of rock. But while Bacino's other albums have a rock-candy sweetness, ‘Queens English’, is a mixture of sassiness and introspection. Sure, there are a few moments of his usual infectious pop, but it’s a record which definitely sees him branching out.
For fans of Bacino's straight up power pop sound, ‘Muffin In The Oven’ and ‘Angeline & The Bensonhurst Boy’ do not disappoint. ‘Muffin’ – a song about being excited/nervous about a pregnancy – comes across as a mix of Jellyfish playing Billy Joel. Ron Zabrocki’s electric guitar leads are nicely played – in fact the whole track is impeccably arranged – but the greatest elements come from the muted horns, mellophone sounds and a simple ‘do do do’ hook – the kind Bacino knows will get in your head. ‘Angeline’ makes great use of horns once again, while the upbeat arrangement really captures a great mood, while Bacino himself delivers a confident, breezy vocal performance.
In a style never present in Bacino's previous work, ‘Bridge and Tunnel’ has a slow sureness, with an upright bass marking time over a classy string arrangement. Bacino's vocal is clear as he delivers his ode to the outer boroughs of New York – Brooklyn, Staten Island, the Bronx and Queens, where “the butt of all the jokes are the wheel and spokes of the city”. The New York quality of this song is so strong, it’s impossible to avoid. Had Randy Newman written it, it would be destined for a movie (either a montage or end credit placement, it really doesn't matter). The same could be said for ‘Happy’, which sounds like a Randy Newman composition for children. On the surface, its shiny optimism is charming and works well thanks to great use of piano and French horn, but as with much Randy Newman-esque stuff, there's a sarcastic streak below the surface. A similar rumpty-tumpty approach sits at the heart of ‘Who Are Yous?’ where Bacino delivers a similarly simple tune and hook...but then, who said great tunes had to be complex?
‘Queens English’ also features a couple of very personal moments where Bacino recounts moments with his young son. ‘Camp Elmo’, telling a tale of life-changing events a new baby brings, utilizes a similar piano simplicity as heard on ‘Happy’ and could be seen as a little twee; however, ‘Ballad of M & LJ’ - a pure celebration of being a father – is far stronger, particularly in the cheekiness of its lyrics, especially the suggestion that Mark and Lee Joseph “might eat three ice cream cones and listen to The Kinks when mommy's not home”. The work of Ray Davies, a small child + a giant sugar rush...sounds like a fun day.
To balance out the more personal, softer aspects of the album, the title track presents Bacino in a rockier mood than ever before. A tough power pop guitar riff drives the number, while the simple hook of “speakin’ the Queens, speakin’ the Queens” is one of the album’s most instant and direct. The seventies edge of the riff has an almost glam rock feel and a rock n’ roll piano thrown into the mix just adds to the general frivolity. At just under two minutes, it makes its exit almost as quickly as it arrived.
While ‘Queens English’ often retains Bacino's gift for penning two and three minute gems which never labour their point, it’s not as instantly gratifying as ‘Pop Job...The Long Player’ or ‘The Million Dollar Milkshake’. Stylistically, it shows Bacino maturing as a songwriter and it’s only after repeated spins that its semi-autobiographical nature provides a very rewarding listen. Stick with it – you won’t be disappointed.
- Real Gone (UK)
THE MILLION DOLLAR MILKSHAKE
The Million Dollar Milkshake (4 stars)
Power Pop with guts.
New York power popper Mark Bacino is just as adept as his peers at assimilating The Beatles, Badfinger, et al, but studiously avoids the inherent pitfalls of the style, maintaining just the right blend of melodic sweetness and rock toughness a' la vintage Raspberries or Cheap Trick. His voice possesses a touch of soulful grit that keeps even the most romantic pop numbers from getting too sugary, but Bacino's not afraid to recall the days of bubblegum pop with his insanely catchy choruses and hook lines.
- Jim Allen, Uncut
The Million Dollar Milkshake (3 stars)
Mark Bacino crafts uplifting, hook-filled pop-rock songs that are heavy on melody, instantly hummable, and deceptively simple. The background harmonies in "Downtown Girl" weave in and around layers of chiming guitars, thumping drums, and backing strings, all the while pushing the melody forward. "Take Our Time", a slow-building acoustic number that gradually adds backing harmonies, cellos, heavy drums, and electric piano, works its way toward a mid-song crescendo before easing back into a sweet, lullaby-like finish. For the instrumental "Milkshake Bossanova", a fun homage to ’60s spy films, Bacino composes a melody that seems both fresh and familiar, with screaming horns, strings, vibraphone, those ever-present backing vocals, and flourishes of electric surf guitar. Although it’s clear that the Queens-based songwriter has been inspired by the Beatles, he avoids any obvious lifts. His lyrics focus on fluffy, carefree boy/girl romance, but it’s the music that counts here.
- Neal Alpert, The Boston Phoenix
"From Managers To Milkshakes"...
When I looked Mark Bacino up on allmusic.com, they compared him to Eytan Mirsky, the only power pop singer on the scene today who’s as good as Fountains of Wayne. Fittingly, Bacino sang on one of Mirsky’s CDs. The title of New York-based Bacino’s new album is a hoot: The Million Dollar Milkshake. I also had to laugh at the very Burt Bacharach-sounding instrumental track “Milkshake Bossanova” which is wryly subtitled “Love Theme From The Million Dollar Milkshake". “All I Want” really has a Beatles meets Harry Nilsson vibe going on. (The Beatles, by the way, did meet and know Nilsson and were ridiculously huge fans.) The sweet, wonderfully catchy “Want You Around” recalls the glory days of Badfinger which isn’t a bad finger to have on a pulse. Bacino is clearly another talented power popster worth checking out.
- Tony Peyser, Santa Monica Mirror
Mark Bacino's frothy power pop would have been a loss leader in 1990, but with sweet melodies a rare thing in '03, Million Dollar Milkshake is a big slurp of welcome sounds. Bacino sings his swinging pop with earnest naivete, erasing every anti-movement since 1979. For Bacino, only Tommy James, Wings and Bacharach remain. The songs move swiftly with no time for bad moods. "Bubblegum Factory" is a David Cassidy b-side, all pimply rocking intent. "Want You Around" is Bacharach meets the Osmond Brothers; "Rockin' Mood" could be Katrina and the Waves or "Chain Gang" era Pretenders, with dazzling harmony vocals. Bacino matches his scratchy tenor with jangling guitars for "How About Always". A knockout craftsman of sunny mid-60's pop, Million Dollar Milkshake is refreshing not in the least for its kinetic songs and childlike enthusiasm. Bacino doesn't take himself seriously, but his songs are the real thing.
- Ken Micallef, Harp
The Million Dollar Milkshake is all about sweetness, from the opening intro of "Bubblegum Factory" to lyrics about holding hands and sunny days to chirpy Bacharach-ian horns to Mark Bacino's melt-in-your-mouth vocals. The 12 songs skip by in a cloud of cotton candy, stolen kisses, and ba-ba-bas, leaving no trace but for a smile. Bacino and his band are ace at playing light and sweet, but with a peppy kick. "Downtown Girl" bops along like amped-up Marshall Crenshaw; "Rockin' Mood" lifts the opening from AC/DC's "Highway to Hell" but immediately reverts to traveling the highway to cutie, complete with castanets and dreamy background vocals; "All I Want" takes a detour into a strange world where bubblegum, burlesque, and country & western all meet; "Walking on Air" is a sticky-sweet paean to Bacino's main squeeze. This is an imaginative record that hits almost no wrong notes ("This Little Girl" is a touch generic musically and lyrically trite) and puts Bacino near the head of the modern power pop class. There are only a few power pop revivalists operating today who have the same blend of reverence for the past and energy and verve for today. Bacino walks that fine line like a pro, and The Million Dollar Milkshake will definitely satisfy your craving for sweet, frothy pop.
- Tim Sendra, All Music Guide
"Don't have no fancy car, but even if I did I wouldn't stray too far" proclaims Mr. Bacino on "All I Want", and this recognition of the things which are most genuine and enduring permeates the entirety of Bacino's second album, The Million Dollar Milkshake. According to the man himself, the album is "a song cycle [which] purposely chronicles one couple's relationship from inception to commitment, through marriage, the honeymoon, and beyond, "beyond" being how they deal with what everyday life throws at them while still managing to have fun and remain in love". Well said, and this message is communicated in under 30 minutes with songs that could lift a catatonic depressive up out of his chair, and make him dance. Bacino sings with the pride, sincerity and wisdom of one who is celebrating the finer things in life without ever sounding cloying or proselytizing, which may be the most compelling reason why tunes like "Want You Around", "Downtown Girl", "Rockin' Mood", "This Little Girl", "Walking On Air", and many others are so uplifting. The production, replete with cheery background vocals and full-bodied arrangements, is the perfect complement to the lyrical optimism. As good as Bacino's debut was, The Million Dollar Milkshake is even better, as it codifies his credo most concisely and effectively and, oh yes, it doesn't hurt that the album is so damn catchy! A definite antidote to all the ills of the world! (note: the Nippon Crown release contains two bonus tracks).
- David Bash, Bucketfull of Brains (UK)
The year is 1974. You've spent the last half-hour watching Fat Albert, Weird Harold and Dumb Donald using their "imaginations" to create their own instruments and assemble a band. With no practice, they miraculously close the show with a two-minute song that makes you feel like dancing in front of the set. Bill Cosby wraps things up perfectly and you're ready to take on the world — or, better yet, watch the next cartoon while you work off that Captain Crunch sugar buzz. Of course, you could also substitute any number of classic shows from this genre like HR Pufnstuff (yes, they must have been puffin stuff when they came up with that show), The Banana Splits or even The Archies.
Remember how certain shows would always end with a short snappy number where everyone on the show was suddenly in a "band" and they stood uncomfortably close together while lip-syncing the words to a song?
Modern-day performers have been able to capitalize on that sound. Matthew Sweet has, perhaps, pioneered the modern-day bubble-gum pop sound. Jellyfish made a short-lived career out of it in the 90s and went on to seemingly influence artists like Ben Folds and Elliott Smith. Now it's the summer of 2003 and along comes Mark Bacino with his second full-length CD in five years, The Million Dollar Milkshake.
While only 30 minutes long, Bacino's somewhat diminutive creation seems consistent with the sound he exudes on these 12 tracks (plus a nifty 26 second intro). The plan is simple: pull the listener in quickly with catchy sounds, invite them to stay long enough to enjoy the song and then send them off wishing for more. But while the idea seems easy, the songs are carefully designed and meticulously arranged and produced.
Bacino delivers the words with his high-register Elliott Smith-meets-Phil Keaggy chops while he and others join in with the usual pop lineup of instruments plus the addition of a strategically placed Wurlitzer, banjo, trumpet, flugel horn, cello, flute, pedal steel guitar, castanets and even a credited "Jaymar toy piano."
It's amazing how much creativity and effort go into such a "simple" CD. Bacino's fresh delivery of bubble-gum pop tunes brings the creativity of masterful musicians like Elliott Smith, but without the attitude. The Million Dollar Milkshake may be a bit on the short side, but it's a fitting introduction to what could be a lengthy career of a talented artist.
- Roger D. Shuman, WhatzUp Magazine (Indiana, US)
From the beginning, Million Dollar Milkshake shines brightly with its upbeat and sugary power pop selections that skip quickly through a 12-song, less than 35-minute teenage love romp.
Bacino's music is rooted in the brevity of 1950s soda shoppe sing-along pop with fun harmonies and memorable hooks that leave a smile plastered on your face. It's a feel-good cd in the sense that it evokes memories of the birthday parties at the roller skating rink when puppy love was as prevalent as sticky soda residue on the coin-op Ms. Pac-Man.
With 14 different musicians contributing, the finer details of the music change often while the general sunshine goodness remains throughout. The brass colorings on "Want You Around" and "How About Always" and the wonderful lounge vibes of "Milkshake Bossanova" provide unique layers to a type of songcrafting that tends to become redundant on the cd as a whole.
As a follow-up to 1999's Pop Job, most of the selections feature uplifting guitar melodies and Bacino's vocals that are equally enthusiastic. But who complains of too much happiness, except for Gargamel? This seems to be Bacino's fight, not against Gargamel per se but against all of those adult forces that muddle the simplicity of youth, such as chasing love.
The cd is sweet, almost cloying if you're not in the mood, and we follow the timeline of this young, flirtatious couple as they discover all of the wonderful things about themselves through the duration of a milkshake that they share.
Songs bounce around like snippets of thoughts that came in eighth grade when you first noticed the shape of a girl's neck. Bacino's music mirrors those thoughts in a way that the quickness of their arrival and departure isn't noticed because they're busy and deep instrumentally.
There's the slow-dance quality of "Take Our Time", the interesting fusion of twangy pedal steel guitar and exploding pop in "All I Want" and the kissing-in-the-hallway feel of "Carry My Heart", which might be the long lost alternative theme song to Saved By The Bell.
A sublime feeling of those first warm days of spring washes over this cd, and in the end, you're left with the lingering perfume trail from a passing crush.
- DM, Popshot Magazine
POP JOB...THE LONG PLAYER!
It must be every aspiring pop-musician's wish to self-release an EP that receives enough acclaim for a label to request more tracks for an expanded issue. Bacino is a man whose wish has been granted, as Parasol is playing genie with Pop Job. The original Pop Job EP is spread out among seven new songs (listed "The Hidden Track" is a home recording of a child's brief rendition of "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head") that all blend well with the bright, classic powerpop feel of the EP. There's nothing heavy here, sonically or lyrically, but I don't think Bacino is looking for Nick Cave fans. Fans of Not Lame releases and fellow NYC popsters Candy Butchers and Michael Shelley, who sings harmony on "Baby Won't Come Down", will find much to rejoice over. Recently added to the playlist of WPOP (my imaginary all-powerpop radio station): "Wonder", "Kay", and "Maybe Someday".
- The Big Takeover (US)
An expanded version of a 1997 four-track EP, 1998's Pop Job: The Long Player is an 11-song blast of bubblegummy power pop in the Raspberries/Hudson Brothers tradition. As the anthemic statement of intent "Sugary" attests, Mark Bacino loads his songs with handclaps, tambourines, organ, "sha-la-la" backing vocals, and all the other tropes of post-Beatles power pop. Unlike a lot of artists in the style, however, Bacino doesn't rely on the signifiers to the exclusion of writing songs that would stand up on their own. Though Bacino's gruff voice doesn't always match the sugar-sweet arrangements, his songs are sturdily melodic enough to stick in the listener's head. Similarly, his lyrics aren't exactly inspired poesy, but they don't cause involuntary eye-rolling, either. The rocking "Keep Me Awake" and the deliriously upbeat "Diggin' That Girl" are among the highlights, but the hidden bonus track, an old home tape of a pre-pubescent Bacino singing a snatch of "Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head" is a charming coda underscoring the lack of pretension found here.
- Stewart Mason, All Music Guide
QUEENS ENGLISH RADIO PROMO TOUR
In celebration of the release of "Queen’s English" I took to the airwaves and interwebs with appearances on the following fine radio programs. 'Twas a lot of fun. Check out the podcasts: