Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Make Believe - East Coast vs West Coast

Since the Canadian iTunes (only) single has been well received by the fans, is moving up the Canadian charts and only a few have noticed the alternate version, perhaps this is a small audience debate. East Coast vs West Coast. I think though, the different versions have opened the door for a larger conversation on Ian's music.

Who is Ian Thornley? How do YOU appreciate his talent? Is he a Nu-metal screamer, chugging the chunkiest riffs and emoting with full throated roar? Is he a rootsy, clever folk guy twinkling the dobro and the mandolin? Is he an inventive but mostly traditional blues PLAYER? Is he a MODERN songwriter that can write hooks for mainstream R&B (Jully Black - Until I Stay) or World music, like Sting or Bono (Provide)? OR is he a Classic Rock re-constructionist like The Black Crowes, the latest Raconteurs, the last few Foos and so many others of late (Good Son, Might Be The End)? Or is he an old time crooner from the 40's and 50's, Ray Charles and beyond (Barely Be, All I Need - He's got a hold of something very different with these gems that seem to be of bygone eras. The vocal harmonies in "My Heart Is" is another example of Ian's fluency with old techniques.)? OR is he a straight ahead modern pop-song guru (Brit POP, That Song)? Is he a hired gun guitar slinger (Rosie, Hurricane) or witty front man (Thornley)? The wonderful problem is that Ian is all of those things.

In some ways it's a decades old debate, had by music fans, managers and record execs since pop music became a high stakes game. How do we see the artist? How do we manage our expectations of their musical journey? Will we go along for the ride? Look at the Led Zep debate! Some are Zep I and II fans only, some are HARD lovers, others are EPIC lovers, others are hippy wanabees and dig the musical pilgrimage that Robert Plant has brought them on. The greats come in many flavors and the debates rage on.

The execs guard their investment like fisherman with a limited bait box in search of a killing as the public swarms like frenzied piranha to and fro. It's a funny and unpredictable mess, with the vast unprincipled internet which insatiably collects with an amoral self-destructive appetite. The record company delays, born of uncertain times, frustrates artist and audience alike. How is an artist to position himself? With whom do you align? What audience will support your venture most? How do you keep the base happy and still expand your vision? How do you bring along the rest. What IS your base? What about timing? Are you on the back end of a pop trend? Are you an innovator?

A lot to think about, especially when your goal is to make the audience FEEL something and look natural in the process. That's show biz.

I chalk up a lot of the recent Thornley history to indecisiveness and unanswered business questions. Ian has, as much as said so, of late. In the interview on Explore Music site, Part 2 of the video interview he did there, which was mysteriously removed from the vid portion, but is now up in audio on their 12/19 podcast, had to do with the record company struggle. The balance between leading and being lead.

"Will you surrender to the leading of someone, somehow?" - Undersold.

Ian makes reference to being easily influenced by a good pitch. Hence Come Again. A moment of compromise to a successful genre/market. A perfectly reasonable concession to business reality. It just didn't satisfy in the long haul. Too many crowded the market and there wasn't a noticeable enough separation between Thornley and the pack. The meal was hamburger and no matter the quality of the beef, those that like steak just won't partake enthusiastically. A slim portion of the hamburger market segment was won over but the more nuanced aficionados were left hungry. Ian does not follow modern music as a fan and therefore has no understanding on how to serve that market. Ian made fun of his weakness in one of the Explore segments. He is left to depend on those "in the know". He said that he had become highly suggestible. I assume that it's from years of market misses and big expectations of a cocky young man. Most of us uber-fans are incredulous at the un-mega-ness of Ian. After a while you get like Ian often says, "Oh Well".

In the past 4 years Ian has shared his sketchbook on stage and in the studio. We get to see how songs evolve; some to market, others to our private myspace stash. He said that the record company has finally acknowledged the need to showcase a few of his facets, at the urging of producer Nick Raskulinecz. He should be our new hero. He's got the clout and chops that Ian soooo needed thoughout his career. While Tiny Pictures will be an eclectic collection, Make Believe is certainly more from the market driven side, but it's not without it's Classic rock pedigree.

The day of Ian's Edge 102 appearance, I logged in and tried to setup and record it; to no avail. I only half-assed listened as they got to Ian introducing the new single Make Believe, while talking it up he stated that there was a couple versions. My ears perked up! Within seconds I was like, "Holy shit! This is a whole new song". New instruments, different arrangement. I was ecstatic. Since then I have listened to an edited-EQ'd version culled from the interview that a friend had provided. I've burned it to a CD to listen on the road and have played it a bunch more at home.

Sometimes I listen to music on the radio while driving and once in a while I'd switch back to the CD to play Make Believe as if it is the next song in the rotation, just to see if it fits. Once, while driving, Stairway to Heaven came on the radio so I switched back and forth between the live radio and the CD player. Except for the brightness of modern recording, stylistically they are built of the same musical vocabulary.

The Canadian single (heretofore known as the West Coast) is all glitter and polish. The CD version (East Coast) has little of the grit Ian relishes, but the EC (at least the low-er quality one that I've heard) has a much bigger, harder drum track. It has as much polish as the WC but the nuance is pure classic rock. There is a more standard rhythm guitar instead of the sitar-sound during "I got this film in my head" on the WC. The percussion/clipped cowbell after the first chorus is gone, replaced by piano? and banjo? The classic Leslie warble makes a subtle intro at this point also. "On to the next one, funny how time flies.." the music drops out with a long bass note for some needed space. This provides the expectation needed for the passionate "Ten Years Gone" style string bends into a soaring arpeggio which underline the next chorus. There's a ton of countermelody going on in the big guitar parts underneath as this builds. I can't wait for the hi-fi version in February!

The "As long as I play me, and as long as you play you.." rave up has a really nice "Mott the Hoople" / Alice Cooper "Billion Dollar Babies" era slide accent shifting under the lyric and the euro-siren two note pattern. All this keeps growing more powerful, anchored on a clear baseline, to the very "Foos" (thanks Nick) phased guitar run. The classic rock echoing wail, "credits roooolll!" that was/is in the live version replaces the trippy studio panning. I have mixed emotions on this because I love both the simple space and the full studio gimmickry. My only criticism is the very standard rat-tat-tat-tat drumroll that comes out of the post wail strumming. It needs to be jazzed up, IMHO. Insert grit/mistake/stutter here. More Bonham please.

This song will be best experienced in a big hall like this:

This early live version seems like a compromise between the EC and WC. I cannot hear the Pagian accents if they are present but the coda is more like the EC version. I hope it evolves some complexity as Ian plays it on the road. I'm sure it will, if only to keep it interesting for him.

The coda on the EC is sooo much better than the clipped ending of the WC. The pattern of rock classics like Stairway is to have the post musical orgasm afterglow as an outro. The radio debut on the Edge102 even has the dj "aahhing" appropriately at the end. Just the result desired by the classic rock audience.

About 3 minutes in:

In fact, Make Believe (EC) followed by Stairway, is a natural. The 12 string pattern flows from Make Believe outro to Stairway intro very smoothly. Try it yourself.

Ian has real winner here with both versions. If he can get the pigeon-hole fixated critic/writers to listen past the surface he can perhaps get some positive press. If not, it's up to us fanboy-soldiers to pump it up. I suspect that radio success, and public acceptance will follow this one. Make Believe is a hit for sure. It WILL have a life all it's own. Those that want to dig deeper will be amazed at the depth Ian possesses and those that want a just a simple rockstar will be satisfied too. Quite a coup.

I'm really looking forward to 2009 for Thornley. Mass success or not I do believe Ian will deliver some wonderful deep music. Listen up!

No comments: