Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Speed of Sound: The TSIS Review

If you've completed the Backspacer artwork puzzle or cheated and found the link on our forums, than you've heard a demo of Speed of Sound.  If you're at work or seeing this on your Blackberry, maybe you're wondering what the song is like.  For such wonderment, I defer to stip.

First Impressions of Speed of Sound

Hard to believe this is coming from the same album that has Get Some and The Fixer.  Where those songs are forceful, assertive, and above all certain Speed of Sound is delicate, cautious, and unsure of itself.  This is a beautiful, but by no means easy first listen.  The music has the same start/stop feel of a song like Guaranteed, but none of its easy melody, which fits well with the questing nature of the lyrics.  Speed of Sound builds quite nicely too.  It ratchets up the tension without ever overwhelming itself.  It’s quiet, without surrendering the sense that something is at stake.

Eddie sounds great here, channeling the same vulnerability we’ve heard in the live version of The End that’s been circulating.  He sounds tired and exhausted in a long-suffering way. He’s clearly weighted down but his performance lacks the weakness and fatalism that dragged down so many of the songs on Riot Act.  It’s also offset by some falsetto vocalizations (we seem to be hearing more of these on this record, and that can only be a good thing.  Eddie’s voice is an instrument even without lyrics, and for too long he’s confined himself to formal vocal parts limited by the words he wrote) and some compelling harmonies.  For a demo there is a surprising amount of depth here (compare to the man of the hour, gone, or small town), a real wealth of feeling.  This sounds like a finished thought more than a template.

What the band does here will be critical.  The song needs that final push to get it into the 4/5 star range.  It’s just a tiny bit too sparse for my tastes here.  But at the same time this can very easily find itself weighted down if they add too much to it, or too much of the wrong thing.

Lyrically there is a really fascinating counterpoint in a song like Speed of Sound (or the End) compared to The Fixer (or Got Some).  Whereas the later are brimming with confidence and optimism these are quiet and meditative numbers—lost, where the others are found.  Their records don’t often come from these kind of divergent headspaces.  They slingshot between anger and uncertainty perhaps, or hope and fear, but not known and unknown.  I’m reluctant to comment too much on this when we’re only going by fan transcriptions of demos, but the song is animated by a sense of loss, but his isn’t a sister song to Elderly Woman, where the singer is haunted by everything they never did. Instead the singer is mourning the loss of something more tangible—something once held and since surrendered, perhaps due to the fears, doubts, or self-destruction of the singer.  He’s coming to grips with his own failures to live, his own failures to feel, his own fear of peace and happiness, and he’s starting to realize that he’s running out of time.  The speed of sound metaphor works great here, both as a vision of energy, happiness, and movement (the way speed is a stand in for meaning, power, and agency—see Born to Run, although Eddie has long been drawing water from that well) but also the way in which a door is rapidly closing—that life is moving fast, and if he doesn’t find his peace soon, his way to slow it down, it will have moved far beyond his grasp, and he’ll be left behind. There’s almost a Tom Waits feel to that sentiment, although Waits would have used a train metaphor.  You’re on the train, watching the person you love or the life you wanted to live recede into nothing as you gather speed leaving the station.

As a first impression this demo is a 3 star song for me, but in fairness this is a challenging songs and these are growers for me.  It is full of great potential and promise, but they could also end up crushing this one under its own weight if they do too much with it.  I’m certainly eager to hear the finished version at any rate

Yesterdays, How quick they change
All lost and long gone now
Want to remember anything moving at the speed of sound
With the speed of sound

And yet I’m still holdin’ tight to this dream of distant light
In that, somehow I’ll survive, but this night has been a long one
Waiting on a sun that just don't come

Can I forgive what I cannot forget
And live a lie?
I could give it one more try

Why deny this, drive inside, just looking for some peace
Every time I get me some it gets the best of me

Not much left, you see

And yet I’m still holdin’ tight to this dream of distant light
In that, somehow I’ll survive, but this night has been a long one
Waiting on a word that never comes

A whisper in the dark
Is that you or just my thoughts
I'm wide awake and reaching out

It’s gone so quiet now
Could it be I’m farther out

Movin’ faster than the speed of sound

The discussion continues here.