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Back in 1997, when I was a critic for CMJ, I led off my review of a new album by vintage Britpoppers the Sundays with the following sideswipe at another band:
“In the five years since their last album, [the Sundays] watched the Cranberries swipe their sound and turn it into three obscenely popular and dreck-filled albums.”
I can’t front: I had a soft spot for the Cranberries’ light-as-air Top 10 smash “Linger.” But I could never get past the fact that the Sundays, a better band with one major alternative hit to their name (the downy, warm-blanket 1990 Modern Rock chart-topper “Here’s Where the Story Ends”), had failed to cross over to the U.S. Top 40 while Dolores O’Riordan rampaged across my radio dial. The ’Berries weren’t awful, just… a little undeserving, and massively benefiting from someone else’s sound.
This week—unless he’s too busy counting his Twilight soundtrack money or canoodling with the missus—Ben Gibbard is probably feeling something similar. It’s got to be a bit galling that Owl City’s “Fireflies,” the new No. 1 song on Billboard‘s Hot 100, is a candied replica of a sound he and Jimmy Tamborello codified six years ago.
Again, I can’t front: on a Top 40 radio dial awash in Black Eyed Peas’ faux-hop and Miley Cyrus’s shrill Autotunage, “Fireflies” is a nice contrast. But it’s basically The Postal Service for Dummies, and it’s mystifying how easily it shot to No. 1 during the same decade when “Such Great Heights,” which some of us consider one of the best-written pop songs of the ’00s, didn’t even grace the Hot 100.
But you don’t have to be a Gibbard fan to still find Owl City’s feat bizarre. Because even if you’ve never heard of the Postal Service, “Fireflies” represents a head-scratching rarity: a No. 1 hit by a solo white guy with no other radio format to call home. More »