Band:Challenger 7
Label:Tomboy Records/1+2 Records
Highlights:Rats In A Maze
Believe In Me
Rock 'N' Roll Sound

Payola is the debut album for Sydney's Challenger 7, which has been worth waiting 6 years for. With the airwaves saturated with all this slick, overproduced rap-metal, it's a relief to finally hear a good, honest rock album that isn't afraid to be melodic. Challenger 7 play guitar driven power pop, similar to the Replacements and You Am I but with a harder 'Detroit' rock edge courtesy of new guitarist, Stewart 'Leadfinger' Cunningham, who has reinvigorated the band. Not only is his guitar playing inspiring but he also contributes five songs of his own, including the power pop anthem, Rock And Roll Sound;

You get home from work
You put on a record
What do you hear?
The guitars are sweet and the stereo is loud
Nothing beats that rock 'n' roll sound

Ian Underwood and Leadfinger complement each other so well it's as they were destined to play together. However, it's Ian's songs that are the main focus. Brutally honest, the title track Payola is close to the best song he has ever written. Its personal lyrics and hard hitting power chords set the agenda for the rest of the album. Other noteworthy songs include Rats In A Maze, Believe In Me, Candlabra and the touching Sunshower, which despite being over 6 minutes long, never loses its focus. Tucked away at the end, Bower Bird, contains some really nice and unexpected slide guitar. In short, Payola is a great album that gets better with every listen, which undoubtably is a sign of a classic record.

Title:At Second Glance
Band:The Chevelles
Label:Not Lame Limited
Highlights:She's Not Around
Murder On Her Mind
Show Me Your Love
No Need To Say

Over the last decade, The Chevelles guitar driven style of power pop has won them many fans around the world, especially throughout Europe. At Second Glance (no doubt a reference to the Stem's At First Sight) is practically a Chevelles 'Best Of' compilation that covers the band's last two albums; Gigantic and the impossible to find, Rollerball Candy. However, it is perhaps more accurate to view At Second Glance as an introduction to the band as it is far from a definitive compilation. Not only is it The Chevelles's first American release but there are too many good songs missing, including nothing from the band's first lineup.

Nevertheless, At Second Glance is an extremely strong record that contains many gems, including my favourite Chevelles' song, She's Not Around. One of the Chevelles' main strength's is their ability to successfully vary their sound, whether it be the pure pop of the aforementioned She's Not Around, the hard rocking Mesmerized, the dreamy Dissolved or the sad Fall. Also of interest is the inclusion of several hard to find B-sides, including their re-recording of the classic Show Me Your Love. On top of this, every song on the album has been remastered, with a quite noticeable improvement in sound quality. Subsequently, if you haven't had the chance to hear anything by The Chevelles, At Second Glance is the ideal place to start.

Title:The Big Picture
Band:Cotton Mather (USA)
Label:Laughing Outlaw / Rainbow Quartz Records
Highlights:Marathon Man
40 Watt Solution
Baby Freeze Queen
Monterrey Honey
Story Of Anna

The Big Picture is the third album from Texan band, Cotton Mather, who received great acclaim for their last album, Kontiki. At first listen, Cotton Mather come across as a pop band who are too clever for their own good (the inner band photo doesn't help such perceptions) However, it doesn't take long for the hooks to fall into place and for the listener to realise what all the fuss might be about; that is intelligent pop songs with a strong understanding of melody. And while The Big Picture does feature a lot of studio experimentation and subsequently a highly textured sound, nothing comes across as pretentiously overindulgent, which one can attribute to the strong songwriting of lead singer Robert Harrison. It's easy to see where all the Beatles 66-67 comparisons come from. Big Picture is a complete album from beginning to end that rewards the patient listener with its treasures.

Label:Sight And Sound
Label:Chris Von Sneidern
Label:Heyday Records
Sight And Sound
Carry On

Sight And Sound is described as "genius pop, ...continuing the pure pop tradition of Big Star, Raspberries and Badfinger" and for once such as description is befitting of the music. From the joyous power pop of Gemini to the sad Never Again, My Love, the quality of Sight And Sound never waivers, even over 15 tracks (with one instrumental). This is all the more impressive considering that Sight And Sound was recorded in Chris Von Sneidern's home studio. Other highlights include the haunting melodies of Somedays and the 12 String Merseybeat of Annalisa. These are the type of songs that some artists spend their entire career trying to capture. Chris Von Sneidern, is quite simply a natural, up there with the likes of Charles Jenkins (Icecream Hands) and Michael Mazzerrella (The Rooks). And still I get the impression that his best work is still to come.