Smoking Popes

Complete Control Sessions EP

The Complete Control Sessions series fills a void that’s gone unfilled in the scene for years now. Namely, rock bands are intended to be heard live, warts and all, and not on a canned studio recording in which it’s difficult to tell where the talent ends and the trickery begins. The latest entry from Chicago mainstay Smoking Popes is the best of the series thus far because it captures a band that’s proficient at playing live and sounding strong while doing so.

The Popes offer five tracks total—two new songs (“Let’s Call It Love,” “Hey Renée”), two repurposed catalog selections (“Grab Your Heart And Run,” “Writing A Letter”) and a cover of “I Dreamed A Dream,” originally from Les Misérables but recently popularized by Susan Boyle. The live-to-tape vibe is immediately apparent—the countoff of “'Let’s Call It Love,’ take one!” that opens the EP is a nice non-edit—and once the full band kick in, it’s a breezy affair. This tune is a driving rocker anchored by soulful crooning from vocalist Josh Caterer and tight drumming from Neil Hennessy, while “Hey Renée” sees the band dabbling in acoustic guitar-based power-pop with equally triumphant results. The new material is an improvement from 2011’s This Is Only A Test, the Popes’ well-intentioned but occasionally misguided concept album about adolescence.

“Grab Your Heart And Run” doesn’t stray far from the original recording found on 2008’s Stay Down, save for some extra flair from behind the kit thanks to Hennessy. Plus, the scat singing from Caterer that dominates the chorus of “Writing A Letter” is just as delightful in 2012 as it was in 1993. “I Dreamed A Dream” starts slowly, with little more than an acoustic guitar and Caterer’s powerful voice, before evolving into more plodding territory. (The track may’ve been better left entirely acoustic.) Still, it’s still a solid entry into the Popes’ canon of covers and a nice way to cap a quick, enjoyable listen.

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“Let’s Call It Love”