There's this one moment on "Sweet Siren of the Reconnected" — the debut solo album from Badlees' vocalist Pete Palladino — that is 40 seconds of pure pop perfection.
It comes about halfway through the album, and it's one of those insanely catchy melodies that — after just one listen — will be stuck in your head 24/7.
"Da da da, da da da, da dat da, da da na na ... Da da da, da da da, da da da, da dat na na nah," Palladino sings at the end of "Time Honored Tradition" a breezy gem on this radio-ready album of gems. And although it's probably just a little ad-libbed moment, and it comes only briefly during the song's fadeout, it says a lot about the album as a whole.
"Sweet Siren" is a very strong pop/rock record, anchored by catchy grooves and hefty hooks. And with it Palladino has not only flexed his rich vocal talents but also has taken brash strides as a songwriter. It's an enjoyable collection of roots-infected modern rock set amid a fine sense of melody and crafty pop sensibility.
"I always had this in my mind — that this is what I wanted to do at some point," says Palladino, who's spent the past 12 years fronting The Badlees. "I was always kind of looking for the window of opportunity to do it. We were so busy in The Badlees doing records, the situation just never presented itself."
Now it has.
The Badlees — a talented Pennsylvania-based band that has released five critically acclaimed albums, scored two national Top 10 hits and sold nearly a quarter of a million records — are, for the first time since their debut more than a decade ago, fully exploring other avenues.
Guitarist and main songwriter Bret Alexander, bassists Paul Smith and drummer Ron Simasek have formed the roots-rock driven Cellarbirds, and guitarist Jeff Feltenberger has formed the alt-country-based Echotown. Both bands also released albums this spring, and this week, Palladino's poppy-yet-edgy solo debut hit record stores.
"I had all of these songs that don't really fit the format of The Badlees, and that was always kind of odd for me, because this is what I do naturally," Palladino says. "I write little power-pop songs. And so, for me, a lot of times fitting what I do into the format of The Badlees didn't always gel — hence the reason that my songs kind of fell by the wayside a lot of times — that and the fact that I was still growing up as a songwriter and a musician."
Palladino, who admits some of his earlier attempts at songwriting were paltry, has done a fine job at polishing his craft. He says recording an album outside some of the musical constraints of the band was a healthy and a highly creative experience.
"It was unbelievably liberating," he says. "For anybody, being able to do a record when they're steering the ship — and it's completely, 100 percent their vision of their art — that's always liberating. All of a sudden, I had this voice, and I had this vehicle to do what I do."
Doing it along with Palladino is longtime Badlees' collaborator Mike Naydock. Palladino says Naydock — who's been co-writing songs with the band since its inception — also brought a special touch to his solo album.
"Mike was a great sounding board," he says. "And as everybody knows, he's also a great lyricist. I would go to Mike and say 'Here, I have this. I feel strongly about this lyrical idea. You want to take a shot at filling in some of the blanks?' That's the way we wound up writing the songs on this record.
"For me, it was wonderful," he adds. "When I had some song ideas lyrically, I could bounce them off of Mike, take them to that next level and wind up with these songs that are a true marriage of what we both do. We're both happy because Mike also writes a lot of stuff that leans more toward power-pop and doesn't necessarily fit within that framework of The Badlees.
"All of a sudden, he had this other voice and other outlet."
Highlights of "Sweet Siren of The Reconnected" also include the adrenaline-fueled "Home At Last," the pop-driven "Elena on The Wall" and the rhythmic "Fate Could Be A Beautiful Thing." And unlike most Badlees albums, which often lean more toward highly cinematic, picture-painting, third-person narratives, there's also an air of romance on the album. Tunes such as "Lay Beside You" and "My Love" appear to have been inspired by just that: love.
"You put out there what you're comfortable with," Palladino says. "I'm an incredibly free person; I wear my heart on my sleeve — so I think that also translates into my songs. And I'm at the point in my life where I couldn't be happier. I'm married to a wonderful woman who's my best friend, I do what I love for a living, and I'm also fulfilled artistically. ... And that's going to come across."
Such freedom may have been just what Palladino needed. Although he's always capably fronted The Badlees with a charismatic flair, he says he felt creatively stifled in recent years. Another album from the band, he says, is questionable.
"I was completely miserable being in The Badlees, creatively, over the past bunch of years," he says, adding that he felt his "team player" approach was not always reciprocated. "For me to go back and want to do another record, a lot of things have to change. I think The Badlees — when we all give each other the room within our niche to do what we do and the ultimate respect — that's when it all works.
"I would love to do another Badlees record. I love the records that we've made. But I'm not going to go and put myself in a situation where I'm not respected and I'm not treated as an equal. Why would anybody go back to that? And I don't even harbor any ill will. Things happen. I'm not here to place any blame. I think if we can all get past it — and give each other the leeway and the room to do what we do — we can make a couple more great records."
Interestingly, Palladino didn't stray too far from The Badlees camp when it came to recording "Sweet Siren of The Reconnected." The album was co-produced by Alexander and recorded at Alexander and Smith's own Saturation Acres studio. All of his Badlees bandmates played on the record. There is still, despite some friction, a sense of mutual appreciation.
"I trust Bret as a producer," says Palladino. "We just don't hang out. It's funny, because I think a lot of the reasons Bret and I bump heads so often is because we have specific thoughts and specific visions of what The Badlees should be. So in The Badlees, there's always that struggle. Outside of that — with The Cellarbirds, Echotown and my record — there was none of that because it was each person's particular vision."
Palladino adds that if one of the three new albums clearly outshined the others, he would be willing to admit that whoever had the best record probably should call the shots within The Badlees. He doesn't, however, think such is the case. And that, he says, may actually benefit the band.
"I think that we have three really good records here," he says. "That's the funniest thing about it — the fact that nobody's right. We all know what we're doing, so that's going to be interesting when we go back to The Badlees. I think you're going to have a bunch of those elements seeping in and making the whole thing a greater machine and greater piece of art."
For now, however, Palladino is focused on his own art. "Sweet Siren" is already getting solid airplay throughout Pennsylvania, and the reviews have been positive. He says he's in the process of putting a band together and has been playing solo shows throughout the region.
His enthusiasm is obvious.
"The timing seems right," says Palladino, adding that he hopes to have another album recorded by next summer. "I now have a vehicle for what I do, and that's the most empowering thing that I've ever felt.
"This is what I want to do for the rest of my life."