Suite Inspiration

Among the members of Seattle’s power pop mafia, the Model Rockets have long been regarded as a band blessed with an abundance of talent and cursed with an appalling lack of success. In truth, it’s been a slightly tortured personaland personnelhistory that’s kept the John Ramberg/Scott Sutherland-led outfit from bigger things. But last summer’s terrific Tell the Kids the Cops Are Here (Not Lame Records) and the brand new Pilot County Suite (produced variously by Johnny Sangster, Kurt Bloch, and Scott McCaughey and released on the Bloch/McCaughey imprint, Book Records) may well signal a change in their fortunes.

Recorded this past December in a burst of holiday inspiration, the album opens with the 10-minute title track, a rock operetta in the spirit (if not the actual shape) of the Who’s “A Quick One.” While the band is certainly using Pete Townshend’s classic as a blueprint to tell the storya diligent narrative of adolescent escapismthe seven-part spectacle is a doggedly original and infectious affair. By turns wistful (“Pilot County Light”), anthemic (“Come On, Amanda”) and nonsensical (“Midway,” with its irresistible “bum a lum, ha ha” refrain), we’re led on a labyrinthine journey of small-town stargazing, the fates of our teen angels sealed as they hop a comet of bubblegum rock ‘n’ roll for a “ride that never ends.” Musically intricate and hook heavy, Pilot embodies the sort of well-crafted, well-schooled ambition lacking in most similarly styled outfits and the kind of euphoric reverie that will provide aahem”remedy” for the winter blues.

The remainder of the album iscontinuing the Who motifa kind of odds ‘n’ sods collection. The next four cuts are culled from last year’s Kids sessions, with Ramberg coming off like an R&B Robin Zander on “This Is a Valentine” and displaying further grit with the soulful sing-along “Cheaters.” Meanwhile, Sutherland does his best Chilton/Bell, mustering a convincing Big Star beauty with “Words Can’t Even Say,” and the band offers an unexpected highlight with the sawdust floor feeler “Hacksaw Hip Hooray,” a whiskey-sodden country dirge with backing vocals courtesy of Christy McWilson.

The final third of the album dates back even further, recordedas Ramberg jokes in his liner notes, “when we were just four young simps”in the spring of ’96. And although most could probably take or leave the under-a-minute psych freakout, “World War 1234,” the aching melody of “Pay for the Gas”a wounded ballad delivered at punk velocityis a hard-to-resist gem, as is Sutherland’s exquisite, jangling “Smile.” Rounding out the 11-song set are the eighth-note harmony fest “Ticket to the News” and the shimmering chug-a-lug “Jail of Rain,” proving that even the band’s throwaways manage more convincing power-chord panache than a dozen of their competitors.

While the Model Rockets are rapidly gaining fame outside Seattlesyndicated radio host Little Steven Van Zandt is an ardent fan; Kids was recently given a rash of glowing reviews in the U.K. press; and the band will spend much of March headlining a tour of SpainPilot County Suite only cements their reputation as the city’s best and most overlooked pop band.