Comparing Songwriting to Drawing

I like to think of a song as a pencil drawing.  It is the most important part of the drawing, because it defines what it is you are looking at. But with good musicianship and the production, the colors and the frame, it can be made to resemble many different things.  You could draw a picture of a cowboy, but then you could color it in with strange colors and make it a psychedelic cowboy.  Or you could color it is with traditional instruments, make it rustic and dust worn, and it could be a traditional country western song.  You could put it up with no frame or you could put a frame up around it that makes it look as if it should hang in some expensive gallery.  That’s what musicianship and production do, they take that thing that is either great or not on it’s own, and make it presentable to more people.  A great song, like John Lennon’s Imagine, would be great in any form, whether just as a sketch or as the final product, produced by Phil Spector.  Meanwhile, you take something like Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories, and although there is some song craft going on there, most of the true magic is in the production and the musicianship.  They are taking a simple drawing and making it into a piece of art through attention to detail.  Meanwhile I just looked at the Billboard Top 20.  Most of that stuff is like someone pissing on a canvas, putting it in an expensive frame, and then telling you it is is a portrait of Jesus.

Dark Despair and Gallows Humor

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In order to not completely burn myself out on the new Morrissey disc, World Peace is None of your Business, which I could easily listen to a thousand times until I need to move on, I have been mixing it up with some Frank Sinatra.  I especially like Sinatra’s music where he is drowning in gloom.  This would be on albums like Only the Lonely and No One Cares.  These are albums filled with maudlin songs full of despair over lost love.  Unlike teenage pop songs, where no matter how sad the music is you know that they will eventually be OK, because they are young and will bounce back, this is music for adults, where all hope has gone out of the window.  In teenage pop, which I love as well, it feels like a tragedy, but we know it is not.  On these Sinatra albums they are the sound of a middle age man running out of time to correct his mistakes.  In fact, the narrator of each song, may be out of time, forever destined to walk the earth bearing the grief of his lost love, like Marley’s Ghost with his chains.

When things go this jet black, maybe it’s just me, but I also feel like they go through the looking glass and cross over to a certain kind of gallows humor.  This in no way dims the true sadness of these records, nor do I mean it in any kind of ironic sense as if I’m smirking at the albums.  But tragedy and comedy have always been very close to me.  It is through this sort of transition between tragedy and dark, dark comedy, that emotional release comes and the records actually become therapeutic.  Instead of wallowing in the despair of the narrator, as voyeurs into the world of the narrator, we can exercise our own emotions and transcend them.

World Peace is None of Your Business Album Review

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Songs about suicide that you can dance to, songs that are devastating critiques of the male ego, songs where we root for a bull fighter’s death so that the bull can survive, songs where we are told to kick the bride down the aisle, songs of poetry that vividly attack the justice system and bring an old prison alive in our imagination, and songs unafraid to look into the abyss;  These are all songs on one album and that is the new Morrissey album, World Peace is None of Your Business.  This album is subversive, intelligent, heartbreaking, and funny as hell.  This album is not just the work off one man however; This album is also the work of a band at the height of their powers and of a producer that brings the best out of everyone involved.

This is a record that is extremely musical.  The album begins with a didgeridoo and goes on to include trumpets, clarinets, flamenco solos, gorgeous keyboards, savage electric guitars, pure noise, and delicately played acoustics.  It is all anchored with the best rhythm section of the man’s career.  The record not only expands the language of pop music, but also the language of music itself.  Sure, in this place and time almost everything has been done, but this record does stake out it’s own small piece of earth.  Have you ever heard a didgeridoo go into a beautifully gorgeous glam rock ballad that also features moments of take the paint off the wall guitar?  All while lines like, “The police will disable you with tasters,” are delivered in a gentle croon.  That’s just song number one.  Anyone that claims that this album isn’t at least trying to push the envelope is either offended by what it has to say, or is so caught up in the baggage of Morrissey’s long career that they’re not listening with anything resembling human ears.

The album swings between transcendent pop and epic show stopping masterpieces.  Take a song like Staircase at the University.  The song resembles in theme the 1960’s “death discs” where tragedy was masked in effervescent melodies.  In this song a female student under pressure from her family and loved ones throws herself down the title stairs until her head, “splits three ways.”  However, when the song ends in a triumphant flamenco guitar solo and eventually handclaps, you find yourself smiling against all odds.

On the other ends of the spectrum there are songs like I’m Not a Man and Mountjoy.  These are two of the best songs Morrissey has ever recorded.  I’m Not a Man takes all of the ways in which traditional manhood is defined and discards them.  From Cassanova and Don Juan, to the warring caveman and the soldier, he dreams up something kinder and better than man as we know it.  “And I would never destroy this planet that I’m on / Well, what do you think I am, a man?”

Mountjoy, minus a line about a judge, described as a, “three foot half wit in a wig”, is deadly serious.  The song is about the famous prison in Ireland that among regular prisoners also housed famous ones such as Brendan Behan, who is also mentioned in the song.  He uses poetic language to not only create the horrible conditions of the prison itself and the justice system that put it in place, but also to ask big questions about the human condition.

Musically this album’s closest resemblance to Morrissey’s catalog is as an updated version of Viva Hate or Bona Drag.  There are times when Jesse Tobias’s overly distorted electric guitar brings to mind Vini Reilly’s guitar on Alastian Cousin.  There are also the extremely colorful arrangements and strange twists and turns in the production from that period.  However, producer Joe Chiccarelli has updated the sound and brought new colors to it as well.  He is somehow able to bring out both the delicate details of the arrangements without them losing any muscle.  Also new multi-instrumentalist Gustavo Manzur brings in all kinds of wold influences from the aforementioned flamenco guitar to the French sounding accordion breakdown of Earth is the Loneliest Planet.

This is Morrissey’s most outwardly looking album of all time, both musically and lyrically.  A song like Istanbul not only is sung in character as someone from the title city, but features musical nods and sound effects to that city as well till we feel that we are caught down in the human muck with the song’s narrator.  The once most British of pop stars is now casting a wide eye across the globe with equal bits empathy and disgust.

The only song that sounds as it is definitely written in Morrissey’s own voice is the final song Oboe Concerto.  “The older generation has tried, sighed,and died / which pushes me to their place in the queue.”

I can’t recommend this album enough.  It is a record of both despair and defiance that features more wit than most singers could muster in a lifetime.  As much as this album looks at the world at large, as Morrissey is thematically not only expanding what he has attempted before, but again also the language of pop music, he still ends the album with a British stiff upper lip as he accepts the reality of life and repeats over and over:

Round, rhythm goes round
Round, rhythm of life goes round

*Some of you that subscribe to this blog may have originally gotten a different review of this album.  I apologize about sending out two different reviews, but I wrote the first one when I was exhausted and simply wasn’t happy with it.  I make a point of never going back and changing anything I wrote, other than for errors, but every rule needs to be broken sometimes.  

The Molly Maguires

Make way for the Molly Maguires 
They’re drinkers, they’re liars but they’re men 
Make way for the Molly Maguires 
You’ll never see the likes of them again 

Down the mines no sunlight shines 
Those pits they’re black as hell 
In modest style they do their time 
It’s Paddy’s prison cell 
And they curse the day they’ve travelled far 
Then drown their tears with a jar 

So make way for the Molly Maguires 
They’re drinkers, they’re liars but they’re men 
Make way for the Molly Maguires 
You’ll never see the likes of them again 

Backs will break and muscles ache 
Down there there’s no time to dream 
Of fields and farms, of womans arms 
Just dig that bloody seam 
Though they drain their bodies underground 
Who’ll dare to push them around 

So make way for the Molly Maguires 
They’re drinkers, they’re liars but they’re men 
Make way for the Molly Maguires 
You’ll never see the likes of them again 

So make way for the Molly Maguires 
They’re drinkers, they’re liars but they’re men 
Make way for the Molly Maguires 
You’ll never see the likes of them again

I absolutely love Luke Kelly and the Dubliners.  My family, on my Dad’s side, also comes from the coal mining region of Pennsylvania.  This song is obviously romanticized, but it is great nonetheless. I’ve printed the lyrics in part a long time ago, but thought that I would post them in full.

If you are interested in learning about the Molly Maguires here is the wikipedia page on them:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Molly_Maguires

It is an interesting time in our history that is often overlooked.

Death in Capitalism

Has anyone noticed how quick iTunes is to capitalize on the death of a musician?  I swear to god, superstar or not, someone dies and the next thing you know their music is moved to the front page and we are told to pay tribute to it.  We’re paying tribute to it, iTunes is capitalizing off of it.  I finally got a new computer and I have been getting my iTunes set back up, and it happened to be open when I turned my computer on today.  Sure enough Tommy Ramone’s picture was plastered along with a link to all of the Ramones music.  I guess this is a fitting response to death in a capitalist society. You truly mattered if big business can make money off of your untimely demise.  I loved the Ramones.  They are how I learned to play guitar and bass, and how I learned to write my first songs.  Anyone want to buy a couple CD’s of theirs in honor of Tommy?  

Shinyribs and No Show Ponies Dates

I’ll be appearing tomorrow night in Austin at the Saxon Pub with No Show Ponies.  Our set begins at 10pm sharp.  

http://thesaxonpub.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/July-20142.pdf

http://www.noshowponies.com

Hear our new album at http://www.noshowponies.bandcamp.com

Unfortunately, tonight’s Blues on the Green show with Shinyribs has been rescheduled for 8/13.  This show also will take place in Austin, Texas.  

http://www.shinyribs.org

 

 

Line of Best Fit Review of World Peace is None of Your Business

http://www.thelineofbestfit.com/reviews/albums/morrissey-world-peace-is-none-of-your-business-harvest?

The above review by Michael James Hall is the best review I have read yet of Morrissey’s new album, World Peace is None of Your Business.  I don’t agree with a few of his small criticisms,  and in the beginning he makes the same mistake of many journalists by saying that basically this is a return to form.  Although it has been five years since Morrissey put out a new album, and I do believe his new album to be the best of his newer releases, all of his last three studio albums have been essential listening for me.  Anyway, these are small complaints because Hall does largely get why this is simply a fantastic release both musically and lyrically.  This record is not only one of the crowning achievments in Mozzer’s career, but is absolutely one of the best albums put out by anyone in recent years.  I have only heard the album three times, as travel has prevented me from streaming it more, but each time my jaw has been on the floor.  If you are looking for intelligent music that is also subversive,  very melodic, and musically inventive,  look no further.  Once I get home, and get my hands on a physical copy, I intend to explain in full detail why I think so highly of this record.  I am clearly a fan, as anyone else reading this blog can tell, but this record belongs in any intelligent music lovers collection.  It is that good.  On first listen some the melodies seem complex and challenging, but by listen three every one  of them is ingrained in your head, never to leave.  Also, even if Morrissey had been taken off the record, his band is reaching new heights, creating music that is stunning in its own right.  I know that I have been writing a lot Morrissey lately, maybe too much to some reader’s consternation,  but I am simply over the moon about this album.  It’s my party, and I’ll cry if I want to…

You can stream the record here in full in the states:
http://www.npr.org/2014/07/06/326925957/first-listen-morrissey-world-peace-is-none-of-your-business

nme.com is streaming it in England. 

People Change

I am headed to Canada on tour to play the Winnipeg Folk Festival with Shinyribs.  I am most excited about the possible prospect of seeing fellow performer Buffy Sainte-Marie,  who is one of my heroes for her music and her political stances.  She was absolutely fearless, despite being a woman and a Native American at a time when it wasn’t easy to be either.  She walked it and talked it all while making completely unique albums.  There aren’t many people that can say they were black balled by President Johnson and appeared on Sesame Street.  

I haven’t been to Canada since my senior class trip almost 17 years ago.  At the time I was mostly concerned with getting drunk where the drinking age was only 18 and possibly landing a girl.  The drinking happened, but the girl didnt.  Now my priority is seeing someone that speaks truth to power while remaining sober enough to take in every moment, if I can get in.  No matter how well we think we know ourselves we can’t even predict ourselves can we?  As Nick Lowe sings:

People change
That’s the long and short of it
Prepare for it or get bit
People change

Mountjoy

The joy brings many things

It cannot bring you joy
Sons of mothers huddle here
Men and boys

1850 swung the doors
And human sewage swept inside
Where victims speak in whines
And where the hardened cried

I was sent here by a 3 foot half-wit in a wig
I took his insults on the chin, and never did I flinch

A swagger hides the fear in here
By this rule we breathe
And there is no one on this earth
Who I’d feel sad to leave

You see we all lose
We all lose

What those in power do to you
Reminds us at a glance
How humans hate each others guts
And show it given a chance

We never say aloud the things
That we say in our prayers
Cause no one cares

Many executed here
By the awful lawfully good
But the only thing that makes me cry
Is when I see the sky

Brendan Behan’s laughter rings
For what he had or hadn’t done
For he knew then as I know now
That for each and every one of us
We all lose
Rich or poor, we all lose
Rich or poor, they all lose

Mountjoy by Morrissey.  The new album is up and streaming at npr.org.  it is fantastic.  I will review it in full once I get my hands on a copy next week and can spend more time with it.  It is hard streaming it on tour from my phone.  First listen blew me away as I feel like he is really pushing himself to new places on this one. 

Mountjoy is a prison where, among regular inmates, famous prisoners like Brendan Behan spent time.  I am coincidentally reading Behan’s Borstal Boy at the moment. 

These lyrics are stunning, especially when married to the music.  Although they look backwards they could not be more contemporary given the sad state of justice in the world…

Vesuvius at Myself

Trying to clip the creek to the bank with a clothes pin
Waterlogged system, rusty spring, faulty planning
Logic squeezed out like mustard at a corndog
Hypertension is not wisdom, chewing the leather straps
Trying to hold the sun still with a bobby pin
Burned fingers. excellent conductor of heat
Private fantasies are not public policy
Christian charity is a doily over my death boner
Busy work is not the Great Wall of China
Vanity bamboo hut out back behind the big house
Pretend is salve for whitey-boy guilt
Furiously slapping at the moon with a cane pole
Trying to prop up the heavens with a fresh flat pencil
Some folks are allergic to rubber
I am trying to stitch this one to all the rest of them
But the seams will split, collide and cleave
Neopolitan ice cream is never truly integrated until it’s too late
Trying to stop the bleeding with scotch tape
Platelets spoil adhesion, fire up the cauterizing iron
It’s a branding of necessity not scarification
Bliss was a pimple that I tried to pop
It erupted up and out on my countenance
Ugly eruption, Vesuvius, ugly eruption, Vesuvius
Ugly eruption, Vesuvius
Vesuvius at myself, Vesuvius at myself

I thought I would start out the Fourth of July by posting the lyrics to the great American songwriter Vic Chesnutt.   He is criminally overlooked.  One look at this or many of his lyrics and you can see why.  He was not one to wince from hard truths.  This is one of my favorite songs by him or anyone.  There are so many great lines in this song: Busy work is not the Great Wall of China.  Almost every line is a vivid image and thought in and of itself.  If not for the fact that his voice was an acquired taste, and possibly also the fact he was in a wheelchair,  he would be on the songwriters Mount Olympus with Dylan, Cohen, Mitchell, or any of the greats.  As far as I am concerned he is.