*** (out of four)
Though Free Energy's 2010 debut "Stuck on Nothing" is perfect for summer listening, it was virtually my soundtrack for the entire year. I just couldn't get enough of the band's affection for big '70s rock hooks and the sort of hopefulness that puts an effortless smile on your face.
The Philadelphia outfit's follow-up, "Love Sign," doesn't electrify as consistently. Paul Sprangers really needs to stop talking about "feeling it coming," a phrase he used on "Stuck on Nothing" and incorporates repeatedly (and annoyingly) on "Love Sign," one of several indications the Free Energy vocalist doesn't have a great deal to say.
That said, the album's peaks make it easier to move through the less-memorable moments ("Hey Tonight," "Hangin'") of "Love Sign." The highlight's undoubtedly "Backscratcher," which offers the disc's best, biggest riff and the kind of solos people who don't know how to play guitar imagine they'd play if they ever learned. "Street Survivor" and "Dance All Night" inspire a bit more reflection than usual, while closer "Time Rolls On" usefully incorporates horns and hand-claps for the kind of tune that will probably appear in a film's late-movie montage. Opening track/lead single "Electric Fever" is, cough, classic Free Energy, its infectious "whoa-ohs" and upbeat optimism making even a freezing Chicago day seem sunny.
Delivering more cowbell and more good vibes, Free Energy still gives you reasons to bust out the air guitar and/or sing along, but in concert you'll likely hope they focus mostly on the older material. "Like Sign" would have been more appropriate.
In concert: Jan. 18 at Schubas
Watch Matt on "You & Me This Morning," Friday at 6:55 a.m. on WCIU, the U