People often refer to the 1960s as the greatest decade for pop music, and in many ways, it was. There was a definite magic in the way many chart topping bands complemented emphatic, upbeat melodies and lyrics with explosively fun orchestration (which usually consisted of many instruments, including horns, woodwinds, strings, and keys). Unfortunately, these days, this style is rarely captured, but there are still a few bands out there that excel at channeling such a beloved retro sound. On their sophomore LP, Grand Hotel, The Explorers Club succeeds at capturing these elements so well, you’d swear it was a lost record from the era. It’s wonderful.
A sextet from Charleston, The Explorers Club hopes that Grand Hotel will “take listeners back in time to a period when radio was laden with songs by Burt Bacharach, Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, and pop mainstays like The Grass Roots.” The follow-up to Freedom Wind, Grand Hotel was mixed by Mark Linett (who also mixed the recent boxset of The Beach Boys’ magnum opus, SMiLE), and the record is filled with classic 60s harmonies. While the songwriting may be a bit too light and “flowery” for some (although, given its intentions, this is quite appropriate), there’s no denying how catchy and joyful this record is.
After “Acapulco (Sunrise)” opens the album as a brief instrumental inspired by surf music, “Run Run Run” enters the scene with a brilliant horn transition. As energetic as it is enticing, it pulls the listener in instantly with its memorable hooks and lovely production (complete with harmonies, horns, and strings). It’s perfectly reminiscent of classic 60s bands like The Turtles and The Buckinghams. Elsewhere, “Anticipation” incorporates more aggressive keys and guitars, making it feel a bit like a The Guess Who track with the orchestration of Jim Webb. “Grand Hotel” serves as a sort of brief intermission, and while its slightly sorrowful melody brings to mind the affective closing credits of a television show, its grandiose flow and historical timbres make it instantly pleasing. The way it segues into the next track (“Go for You”) is great, too.
The latter half of the record includes more poignant songwriting. Tracks like “It’s No Use,” “Sweet Delights,” and especially “It’s You” recall the ballads from the earliest Todd Rundgren albums. Of course, “Acapulco (Sunset)” gives Grand Hotel a superb sense of conceptual continuity, and “Summer Days, Summer Nights” arguably features the album’s greatest harmonies (inspired by Brian Wilson, no doubt). “Open the Door” closes the album with a blissful mixture of everything The Explorers Club has to offer, leaving the listener wanting more.
Grand Hotel is remarkable not just as a present day artistic piece, but also as homage to what many people consider the greatest music ever made. It’s incredible how perfected each element—from the instrumentation to the timbres to the melodies and harmonies—is. One must also respect the band for daring to go against the trends of the current music scene in order to craft what they wanted to hear. Grand Hotel may not appeal to those who know nothing of its influences, but for anyone who can appreciate its scope and ambition (as well as any nostalgic “baby boomers”), it’s a true gem.