(Almost Halloween Time Records, digital download, vinyl)
The 1990s are hot right now, and Phil Yates is into it. Beginning with the title of the Burlington songwriter's latest album, No Need to Beg, which recalls the Cranberries' 1994 hit No Need to Argue, '90s alternative rock references abound. On his second full-length album with his band the Affiliates, Yates doesn't abandon his steadfast influence, Elvis Costello, but accompanies him on a '90s alt-rock walkabout, exploring the desire for something more.
From the first track, "Burn It Down, Bernadette," which would be at home on the Gin Blossoms' New Miserable Experience, Yates wants to instigate change. He emphatically urges a former lover to set her stasis ablaze, singing, "Lather, rinse, repeat with kerosene / The embers will spread from town to town, / So burn it down." "Co-Pilot," much like the 1997 Letters to Cleo song of the same name, is a dare, with Yates ready to throw caution to the wind, declaring, "My car has a full gas tank / I'm ready to empty out the bank." He then tempts the listener to "leave at the count of three" on a journey toward the unknown.
"Grass Is Always Greener" tells of the darker side of domestic discontent. "A roving eye never did anyone any good," he sings, suggesting that sometimes, despite temptations, what we already have is exactly what we need. The Wurlitzer piano, played by bassist Raph Worrick, adds depth and variety to the song.
With the exception of the borderline cringe-worthy "Masterpiece," Yates keeps with the writing skills showcased on previous albums, particularly his penchant for wordplay. In the rocker "Little French Earthquakes," he is delightfully creative with rhyme. This track adds a sexy twist to the album, with Worrick and drummer Jake Blodgett building tension with a bass-and-drum break that leads to the coolest guitar solo on the album.
While Yates' Costello-ish singing is not strong, it is approachable and endearing, and he exercises prudent editing on the sparse closing track, "Insomnia," on which he plays all the instruments. Kevin Stevens balances Yates' cleaner guitar tone with his overdriven solos on "Little French Earthquakes" and "Drinking for Two" and adds texture to "I'm Thrilled" with slide guitar. Blodgett's drumming is enthusiastic, if loose, keeping the energy high.
Throughout No Need to Beg, Yates seems to wish things were just a little bit different. As dreary winter weather dragged on, pushing Vermonters to dream of alternate realities, Phil Yates came up with a likable pop-rock record that lets us know he's right there with us, dreaming of a sunnier future.
Phil Yates & the Affiliates play Friday, April 17, at New City Galerie in Burlington. No Need to Beg is available at philyates.bandcamp.com.