Thursday, September 4, 2008

Hard To See - my take

Hard to See
I have only heard 3-4 versions of "Hard to See live and I have tried to piece the lyrics from different sources. The sources are all really tough to discern, at parts, so forgive my misinterpretation.

HTS is without a doubt a driving rocker. The signature intro riff borders on Rock n' Roll but is a more straight ahead runner. I LOVE when Ian just throws a balls-to-the-wall-burner our way. Like Fall Through the Cracks from the Big Wreck days in that it has that one two beat which allows Ian to ad tasty flourishes in between the beats. These little nuances are what does it for me. A good strong riff is like the architecture on which you can embellish and decorate. That's why the blues is such a broad form for guitarists. Hard to see follows this rule.

I'm sure the studio version will carry all of the power that it delivers live. I can't wait to hear what nick raskulinecz heard in this song.

Just fire away, just fire away
and lets begin
In spite of me, in spite of me
I let you in

Ian is such a good "relationship" writer. His point of view always seems to reflect a very REAL situation. Whether they are personal or imagined he writes with the authority of one who's been there. HTS is about a reluctant intervention. Like a guy forced into a discussion about his flaws, pointing the finger at his accuser/intervener. "Lets get this over with", "Go ahead, take your best shot" After all, I LET you go ahead with this, even though it's against my better judgement. Even though my character flawed ego has built up this protective wall, I will let you in... just to remind you who's in control. He's so tough when he starts.

Don't you think your word
is tied to the mess thats inside of me
by now

Then the finger of blame get thrown toward the accuser. We never look inward first. It just ain't our nature. Don't you think that you had something to do with this mess you see me as? Who's to blame here? Me or you!?

It's Hard to see the better side of me
It's time to find a better way to be
Can't figure it out
It's Hard to see the better side of me

The chorus is a tacit admission, that as I look at myself, as you see me, it ain't pretty. I guess, you're right, there's gotta be a better way. I am helpless within myself, or at least at this moment, I see no solution. The beginning of change is the admission of a problem.

Now close the door, now close the door
Lock me in!

Then sign me up, sign me up
for counselin'

But the dysfunctional ego fights tooth and nail for it's survival. Remember, I'm a dangerous animal, you better restrain me or I might run! Go ahead and use that tranquilizer dart gun called "counseling". It's one thing to admit in conversation that you might need to "talk" to someone, it's a whole 'nother thing to actually go through with it, and I DON'T LIKE IT!

Don't you think you're trying to see?
The tragic mess inside of me by now?

Perhaps you are digging a little too deep. Like as you are on the operating table, knowing you need to have a tumor removed, but without anesthesia. That initial cut to break the skin hurts and you pull back. Maybe this wasn't such a good idea. Maybe you are wrong about me.

It's Hard to see the better side of me
I'm trying to find a better way to be
Can't figure it out
It's Hard to see the better side of me

Each time I stop and I turn around
My foot gets stuck in the earth (mud? jungle?)
Each time I stop and I turn around
It always gets stuck

Finally comes the admission that all your attempts at change have failed. EVERY time I try to change, I get bogged down. You finally conclude that you cannot get it done by yourself. The frustration in the way this line is sung seems personal.

I know this is a music review but I look at things through my spiritual grid. Sorry if I offend. The issues that Ian writes about are common to us all in one way or another. That's why we relate to him so much.

Paul the Apostle in Romans (kind of confusing but if you work it out in your head it will be valuable):
We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature.[c] For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God's law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!

Now Paul's conclusion is to thank God for salvation. God sees the better side of us, even when we don't. That's why he has the desire to Save us. That's why it's so hard for us to see our better nature because we inherently KNOW our own failings and mortality. Deep down we recognize that no good lives in us by our own flesh. It's all about the pleasure and the greed from our natural side. Our spiritual side, at least what we let dwell inside us, is the only non-selfish part.

I love how Ian refers to his foot getting stuck in the earth (I think that's what he's saying), as in the "earthly". He desires to step into the heavenly, but keeps getting bogged down on the earthly. Such a human condition.

It's Hard to see the better side of me
Time to find a better way to be
Can't figure it out
It's Hard to see the better side of me
Time to find a better way to be
Can't figure it out
It's Hard to see the better side of me

A life well examined, and consequently well lived, is a life worth living. I admire Ian's "self" examination even if it's NOT really about him. It's really about US. That's why Ian is such a genius. On one level it ROCK's, on another it rocks your conscience. Genius I say!

Monday, September 1, 2008

Might Be The End

"Might be the End", might be the best song Ian has put out since Big Wreck. Since the first time I heard the moody open, this song has been flooring me.

Discover Simple, Private Sharing at

Ian has perfected a very tasteful "cut and paste" way of composing music that sets a tune in a frame, so to speak. An earlier, more obvious example of a "mash up" is Big Wreck's "No Fault" where Supertramp collides with a chugga-chugga VanHalen riff.

He employs the same technique live when he intros songs with a classic like Supertramp. He stamps the reference for his tribute and then delivers HIS classic take.

This Might Be the End is an amalgam of influences. At it's heart it is a "classic late Zep" blues number. After the Jeff Buckley "Lover You Should Have Come Over" tagged intro, it stomps into I'm Gonna Crawl" territory. The drumming is pure Bonzo, with that powerful reverb. It has a classic swing/shuffle to it unlike most modern music.

The waltzy pace is deliberate and dizzying. As Ian sings "Tiptoeing closer and closer towards.." You can just imagine two dancers on the edge of a precipice, swirling to destruction. The music swells to accompany the lyric, and then delivers an abrupt drop-off. The wet reverb hangs like an echo of their once sure footing.

That slow lazy slide stroke is vintage Page. The picking on the downstroke (what do I know?1... this is what it sounds like to me) has an almost piano tinkle mixed in to it. Such a nice touch. I hope they can keep this in the final. I love the little pieces that add nuance to a track.

Ian emotionally segues into the dread of the inevitable. The music feels like the protagonist dragging his feet, resisting what his heart already knows... "It's over, Johnny!". The tempo changes, the waltz begins again. One last plea for connection.."Dont'cha think we should break down the door..." There is a flanged/echo of a note that cascades out into the stratosphere as he sings this line that sets up the chorus.

A great chorus too. "Sometimes I hold out, when I should give in... There seems to be that old-timey background vocal harmony going on behind Ian. It's hard to tell on the demo. This is very obscure, but Zep on "Hey Hey, What Can I Do", has outro vocal harmonies that sound like what Ray Charles did back in the 50's. Ian seems to be in this territory. There is a more timeless quality to Ian's new demos. He seems to reach back very deeply into his pile of influences. The harmonium intro, most recently a Jeff Buckley thing but, of course, a much more arcane instrument. It's akin to the use of the Hurdy Gurdy in Zep's "Hangman".

The song is firing on all cylinders by now. Flanger, huge reverb, piano tinkle. It's all kickin' and sets up the greatest solo sequence that Ian has EVER performed in studio. It builds deliberately, maturely with the the proper space and timing of classic solos.

All great solos need tension and release and as this solo begins to gallup along, the tension grows. Like a long jumper running up to the take-off, it picks up the pace with that final compression of muscle and bone to launch that solo into history. It does not just go higher, it teeters on the brink. This part ranks with the Claptons and the Pages in my opinion. This is not cover band business. This is a guy who "gets it" because he's "got" it. That innate ability to channel the almighty. To touch a soul. I tear up every time I hear this solo. It's what a guitar aficionado waits for; that transcendent solo.

I think Ian does this influence morphing thing to perfection. On "The Lies That I Believe" he channeled Gilmore and Slash. On this it's SRV-JimmyPage-Neil Schon, at their most classic. Not a direct cop of a riff, but certainly the FEEL. If he is defined by what he steals; his talent at distilling the essence of the subject of his theivery and the resulting amalgam is unparallelled. It becomes a style all it's own. Ian is his own Supergroup.

I don't know if people even care anymore about a soaring guitar solo, but if they do, this is one for the ages.

A little personal anecdote. I was working in my basement studio as my brother-in-law and his future son-in-law were putting in a new heater. Two plumbers, blue collar guys. My Bro-in-law is an old school, nuts and bolts, classic rock guy. His son-in-law is a hnnn-sss, hnnn-sss, hnnn-sss, club dude (y'all know what I mean). I had itunes playing a shuffle of my library through the Mighty Klipsches for their working pleasure. MBTE came up in rotation. As the song neared completion they both stepped out of the back room slack jawed. "Holy shit! Who was that!" said my brother in law. Never having heard the song before (OBVIOUSLY!), with no prompting from me. A 50 yr old recognizing the great heart and soul of the track, the young man exclaiming "I never heard anything like that before!". Totally unsolicited and unexpected. I love those moments.

This is an Ian composition that makes you take notice. The full bore, high octane finish is deeply layered and complex. Powerful shuffling back beat, droning background chorus, intricate soaring guitar runs that intermittently stab through that velvet smooth wall of emotion; all topped off with that passionate but resolute vocal performance we expect from Ian.

Then he drops the mix back to the basics; and we feel that perpetual shuffle of self destruction that Ian is so familiar with and it fades out.

I only pray that this will make it to fully realized studio magic one day. F' the market! This is one that stands alone! Timeless.

For any music fan that wants to take their listening experience deeper Ian is a delight. As I've said before, If I could bottle all that I hold dear in music and give it a label, it'd be Thornley.

Here are a few tracks from one of my 70's faves, Climax Blues Band.

Shake Your Love (very Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, but the slide solo vintage 70's. Zep wasn't the only one):

Flight (very cool jazzy jam that gets VERY intense):

Amerita/Sense of Direction

Discover Simple, Private Sharing at

This was show-stopper, live. Sadly I couldn't find a youtube recording. Once you get past the old time opening and jazzy run it changes direction (get it?) it sets up a classic ascending solo that really soars. It's so Ian Thornley; Lost at Sea, "the map is never wrong, they say" and Blown Wide Open. It's some of the reason I find Ian's music so appealing.
Enjoy, my peeps.