One of the small perks of having a pop culture site is that you often get to find out about cool stuff before the world does. When I learned a couple of weeks ago that the geek pop wiz Meri Amber would soon be releasing her album Retro Sherbet, I was excited—for myself, certainly, but also for those out there who have not listened to it or who might not have heard of Meri.
Retro Sherbet was actually written in February of 2015 originally for something called FAWM (February Album Writing Month), a website and yearly songwriting event that I’ve written about repeatedly on this site.
When Meri posted her original demos for the album I, along with many others on FAWM, expressed awe and admiration and perhaps not a little envy for her remarkable talent and pop sensibility. When FAWM 2015 ended I asked Meri if she was going to release this album because, well, I thought it was amazing. She said that she was going to but wanted to tweak and polish it up first. That was a year ago. A lot can happen in a year and since then Meri released an entirely different work, a concept album about Doctor Who called Pop Goes the TARDIS (which was also reviewed on this site). As the months passed I wondered if Meri really was going to release her FAWM 2015 album or if she had decided to file it away, which would have been a terrible shame.
Fortunately, that was not the case and, being a meticulous craftsman, she was taking her time to make the songs as good as possible. Now that Retro Sherbet is out, as much as I can truthfully say I love everything this talented lady puts out, this just might be my favorite album of hers.
Like Pop Goes the TARDIS, Retro Sherbet is also a concept album, this one oriented around the general theme of the 90s. Opener “Back to the 90s” is, in many ways, the perfect encapsulation and meta statement about the album as a whole:
I wanna go back to the 90s yeah
Riding in the park on my bike down the stairs
Cause cool was uncool and it was fine to care
I had flared blue jeans and a world of opportunities then
The song is brilliant. Just try listening to it with headphones, note the exquisite attention to detail and the gift for melody, and see if you feel otherwise. Each added layer and progression sends you higher into the sonic stratosphere and sets the bar for the rest of the album. It’s also placed cleverly in the track sequence. You see, at this point the album’s narrator is expressing a nostalgic desire to go back to the 90s but is not actually there yet. It is written from the perspective of now, looking back. At some point during the album, however, it becomes apparent that now she is there. She has gone from simply wanting to go back to the 90s to actually having gone back – in a sense, she’s traveled back in time. The lyrics are no longer about pining for the past but are written from the perspective of one who is there. There’s also a kind of narrative arc in which Meri writes of her experiences growing up in the 90s with her usual flair for fusing real-life with pop cultural metaphors: Pokemon, Dragonball, Xena, the Block Breaker game, all the big movies of the 90s, and Tamagotchi (hey, remember those?).
Musically too Retro Sherbet has a sound crafted to match its decadal themes. From the subtle influences of No Doubt, Sublime and other 90s bands in songs like the latin/reggae/pop punk inflected “Catch ‘Em All” to the Britney Spears-esque, balls out dance pop of “Block Breaker,” if there’s anything about 90s pop culture that holds a special place in your heart, chances are this album will grace it over the course of its exhilarating 50 minutes. There are far too many terrific songs on this album to name them all, and the hooks here are as catchy as anything you could hear on the Top 40 chart. (And while there’s nothing wrong with buying Top 40 music, as a champion of indie art, I say if you’ve only got $15 to spend on music this week or month, spend it on this.)
After the dazzling time-traveling tour of the first thirteen songs, the last two on Retro Sherbet bring us back to the present. “Film Strip” is an achingly poignant snapshot of a moment in the past in which our narrator gets a glimpse of the future and now, being in that future, remembers her past moment of prescience. It’s a gorgeous ballad, one that in some ways I would have preferred to have been the album closer, but Meri Amber prefers to leave you dancing rather than feeling sentimental, and closes instead with one of her geeky empowerment anthems in “Work it Out Like Goku,” urging us to seize the present:
No time is better than now
So grind those extra reps, grind those reps, grind those reps out
There are singles and individual songs from other albums by Meri Amber that are among my absolute favorites of hers, but as a complete LP Retro Sherbet is her crowning achievement to date. Song after song, it is a remarkably cohesive, dizzyingly eclectic and irresistibly catchy album from beginning to end and will turn any newbie listener into a raving fan like I am.