BOSTON PHOENIX - Issue Date: February 25 - March 3, 2005
This is both a surprise comeback and a seriously fine power-pop disc. Steve Barton was the main singer-songwriter of Translator, a San Francisco band who put a thoughtful, folkish spin on British Invasion stylings. At their best, they came as close as anyone to being an American version of XTC. (Their one hit, "Everywhere That I’m Not," was by no means their best song.) Just Barton’s second album in the two decades since Translator’s demise, Charm Offensive reunites him with that band’s (and the Smithereens’ and the Ramones’) producer, Ed Stasium. And the surprise is that he’s sounding younger, not older. Largely dropping Translator’s moody folk leanings, he puts the hooks up front and keeps the songs short and the sound scruffy, evoking both the British Invasion and the tougher side of new wave. He rewrites history by turning the most maudlin Beatles song, "She’s Leaving Home," into a punkish rocker that could have fit on an early Joe Jackson album. There’s a bit of the Jam’s swagger on "Kiss This," and "Yours To Lose" has a tremolo guitar not far from R.E.M.’s "The One I Love." "Tina Finds the Silences" is a musical love letter to Tina Weymouth, with appropriately jittery Talking Heads guitars. But the high quality of the songwriting makes the album more than the sum of its influences: the hooks and riffs come so dependably that it all feels effortless. And the lyrics take a few sharp looks into the dark corners of love affairs, proving that the thoughtful streak of Barton’s younger days hasn’t waned.