Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Cold Confession and Let It Ride: The TSIS Review

We don’t know if this is Eric Snowden risking his life in the pursuit of justice, or Dick Cheney leaking to the NY Times to build support for a war, but who gives a shit.  We were all lucky to wake up this morning (or go to bed last night) with two new songs, believed to be from the first S/T recording sessions (the fade outs should give that away, if nothing else).  That makes 5 new songs in a matter of weeks.  Given a 4 year drought (less Ole) that’s a lot of new music.

Unreleased songs/b-sides/demos have some advantages and disadvantages over official releases. For better or for worse they lack the context of an album to help situate them. Each song is absorbed based on its merits, but the surrounding presence of other songs usually adds extra dimensions to a song.  There is no interplay here.  Just the music itself.  We get a purer experience of the music, but not necessarily a richer one.  On the other hand, songs like this also allow the listener to create whatever context they want for the music.  Witness the way the Binaural unreleased tracks helped elevate Binaural into the near mythic ‘album that could have been.’   They become idealized songs that could have saved whatever recording session they were a part of.  And maybe they could have.  I certainly would have enjoyed Binaural more if Sad was on it. But Sad is encumbered only by my fantasies.  It gets to be a better song than it might have been if it was forced to exist as a part of people’s larger experience of the album it arrived in.  Likewise, a demo or rough mix needs to be filled out, but we do it in our minds, and we are always our favorite producers.

So by way of that introduction, lets talk about Cold Confession and Let It Ride.

This is a wonderful song.  Elements of the raw vulnerability of 4/20/02 (but turned into something worthwhile), the themes and desolation of the Untitled spoken word piece (but without its self-indulgence), and perhaps the scope of All or None, but given the personality that it so desperately needed.    It’s a personal, intimate, song—tentative, but not lost.  Boom’s keys (and Jeff’s bass) give the song a warmth that contrasts nicely with the chilliness of the song.   It feels like a  winter wind.  This is what the weather was like away from whatever fire Strangest Tribe was recorded in front of.

Eddie is the star here, and it’s nice to have a showcase song for him.  He is perfect here, barely held together—like spiderweb cracks on a pane of frosted glass.   It feels real without the affectations that (for some people) mar a song like The End.  The music helps understate him.   If this song was starker OR lusher it would have been too much.

I haven’t been able to sit down with lyrics yet, but what I can make it sounds good—clearly a song about trying to right yourself after a devastating loss.  Full of water metaphors, which, even if overused, Eddie tends to write effectively. But oddly enough, it doesn’t FEEL like a water song.  I don’t picture the ocean.   Nevertheless, it all builds quite nicely to the centerpiece lyric:  “And to himself/a memory clear/a cold confession that only/that only he could hear,” before launching into what passes for an appropriately understated bridge.

An advantage this song does have over some recent Eddie songs is that it is a song about loss, rather than the fear of loss. It’s an easier sell, since it is more natural to relate to the experience of having lost something, instead of having to imagine what someone else possesses. But to the song’s credit, it avoids catharsis, without wallowing in its loss (where thumbing my way and all or none lose me). Instead we get a much darker resolution. He is united with what he lost (either in reality or fantasy, but it doesn’t matter), and finds no comfort there.  Whatever came between them is still there.  There’s a wall now, and there is no way it won’t keep them apart.  And the song winds down on that realization—the illusion of the happy ending that isn’t fooling anyone.

This is a great song, and we’re lucky we have it.   I think it is easily better than most of S/T, although I understand not including it. S/T is an album full of grand gestures, spleen venting, and combat.  This is too understated for that record. Still, at least we have it now.

I am a bit less impressed with this one, but it may just reflect my own idiosyncratic tastes.  I know many will disagree, but this is a less polished/traditional version of Force of Nature (which is one of my favorite pearl jam songs)—both in terms of the lyrical content and the feel of the songs. This is a song describing the girl the FoN narrator is waiting for.

We have a muscular, unadorned riff that gives the song a kind of purposeful purposelessness. It’s not going anywhere in particular, but it marching to nowhere with some shit kicking determination. It plays off oddly, and (to my ears) not always successfully, with Eddie’s vocals, which seem to be moving with far less deliberation than the music (although he sounds good—and I really like the moaning at the end).  I have no doubt that same contrast will be precisely what makes this song appealing to others.   Lots of nice work from Mike, but I’m not sure precisely what it is adding to the song.  The accusation gets thrown around a lot that Mike solos often have no rhyme or reason—no direction or purpose. I almost always disagree, but not hear.  I LIKE what I’m hearing, but it feels like the solo is moving off in its own independent direction, away from the song.   I think that’s my issue.  The sideways plodding riff, the slow moaning vocals, and the frantic soloing feel spliced together to me, the opposite of the organic feel that its fans seem to be praising.

Lyrically what I can make out seems pretty good (although the outro, once worked out, may not hold up to the verses)—these are better written songs than much of S/T, which is probably eddie’s weakest lyrical outing to date.  “Like a book with no ending read backwards to beginning” is a really nice line.  Overall the song seems to be describing an independent, disaffected woman declaring her independence.  Let it Ride feels like a Springsteen inspired phrase, but it needs to move more than it does.   I think that may be my single biggest concern with this song. For a song about movement and independence this plods a bit. Quite possibly by design—at this stage in their careers my default reaction is to assume everything they do is deliberate—but nevertheless the song suffers for the weaker melody.

But again, these are my tastes.  I love Backspacer.  And the people who don’t seem to be falling over themselves for this song.  It is certainly not as ‘easily digestible’ as many of the recent efforts, and that could very well be a strength of this song.  And I like the song, don’t get me wrong. But Cold Confession is the far superior effort.