Monday, February 16, 2009

The Big picture on "Tiny Pictures"

There has been a shit storm of dashed expectations expressed on the Thornleyfans message board. I've really enjoyed the passion that has been on display, both positive and negative. It is evidence of an artist that affects people.

Longtime Ian fans kinda know how Ian's music works. Ian is like the elephant in the old proverb:
"Six blind men were asked to determine what an elephant looked like by feeling different parts of the elephant's body.
The blind man who feels a leg says the elephant is like a pillar; the one who feels the tail says the elephant is like a rope; the one who feels the trunk says the elephant is like a tree branch; the one who feels the ear says the elephant is like a hand fan; the one who feels the belly says the elephant is like a wall; and the one who feels the tusk says the elephant is like a solid pipe."

Depending on when you have gotten a taste of Ian, the expectant listener has an opinion of who he is as an artist. When a new CD arrives you have expectations. There's a lot going on AND a lot to digest. On first listen, the flavor of the track may be all you can get. We try to categorize it. "Feel" it. You might dismiss it, as "Ok, this is a standard rocker, or this is a country song... " but that would be to sell your own listening experience short.

I did this with the latest Black Crowes - War Paint and Chris Cornell's - Euphoria Morning. Quick dismissal, only to return later to find some great stuff. It'll just pop up in an iPod rotation and bing! a new fave, a new discovery.

Even as a staunch Ian fan (some say obsessive) I had high expectations going into this CD. MY view of Ian, of course is the PROPER ONE. Why can't the record company just GET him like I do and just let him produce the ART that I hear inside Ian. I'm sure it's EXACTLY what IAN would want to do. We all fancy ourselves movers and shakers in the music world. We would be wrong.

When some expressed dissappointment I thought it would reflect some of my own initial trepidation. However, the complaints/reviews were from all sides of the elephant. Ian is not "hard enough". Ian is too formulaic. The recording is too hot. The songs are too mellow. The lyrics are dumb. Each camp seemed to have had their personal ox gored.

It all goes back to how each of us experiences Thornley. Like I wrote before. Ian, being many things to many people, is not a premeditated contortion. He is so incredibly talented that he CAN be quite extraordinary in many milieu.

Come Again fans found him to be a breath of fresh air in the nu-metal. HARD Ian was where it was at. Bright, over-the-top, in-your-face, extremely compressed recording was where modern rock radio was in 2004. In many ways it's where it's at today. The casual listeners love it as witnessed by the popular radio that dominates the spectrum. It's where the money is.

Nickleback has become the whipping boy "brand" of the entire scene for anyone not liking this format. Isn't it weird that the big dog that opens the door for Ian is the one that taints his "art". To me Nickleback is the Bon Jovi (I HATE BonJovi -yet I respect their musicianship and craft) of this generation in that they are the formula that all seek to follow. Within this framework there was a sub-genre "flavor of the moment" such as those produced by Gavin Brown. I know this music like I know Rap which is to say, not at all. It just all sounds the same to me. It probably has nuance and value, I just don't hear it beyond the initial adrenaline hit. Like a candy bar, the first bite tastes real good but I couldn't make a meal of it.

I was perplexed by anyone can/could think of Big Wreck and Thornley's first Come Again as a logical progression. Come Again was, to me, as about as hard a right turn as possible. The two are sonically diametrically opposed. I completely balked at most of Come Again initially. I'm an old guy so I am like an alien looking in. I thought, "Where are all the "roots" leanings, all the Zep references, the clever 70's rips, the virtuouso guitar runs?" Only Beautiful and Lies fulfilled this for me initially. Ian was soooo much more.

But, upon stepping back and giving it some time there were clever twists throughout, lyrically, and musically that thrilled me. I never really liked "So Far So Good", yet it became pop gold for many of you. I get the need for a young artist to carve out his niche, but I longed for a return to a more organic Thornley. Big Wreck was ORGANIC. Big, warm tones, choruses, VERY obscure personal yet clever lyrics etc., the Zep structures throughout. ABSOLUTELY FANTASTIC musicianship and GREAT songwriting. Probably too rich for most people. It took years to be digested and STILL satisfies.

Come Again, on the surface, just seemed too dumbed down for me. And yes the Uncle Chad hand (I needed to blame someone, correctly or not) seemed all over it. But, it worked. On some level, MANY new young fans came aboard. It's these fans that seem the most disappointed by Tiny Pictures. In a market full of screaming, multi-tracked and processed vocals, nu-metal guitar how can Ian stand out? By "ROCKING HARDER"? The dial only goes to 10.

The 5 years between Come Again and Tiny Pictures has been interesting. Living vicariously through all of my Canadian friends who post vids of local shows (A Thornley headline Canadian club show vs a 40 minute set as an opener for NB is no comparison) and ingesting every drop of info I can on the guy, has been an up and down journey. Ian still seemed to be short of a breakthrough.

Then when I heard the tasty work he was doing with Casey Marshall (Fairfield), I was hearing Ian as rootsy session player minus the spotlight. When the demos came out on Ian's myspace page I was ecstatic! All I Need, MBTE, Fall Down, Good Son, Brit Pop, Fred and all the rest. They were creative gems just looking to be polished up. I figured that they would have no commercial hope of ever being realized so I accepted them as they were. THIS was the amazingly unique, eclectic Ian Thornley I am privileged to follow.

The demos done with the help of Jeff Dalzeil had a warm natural quality to them. Perhaps too organic, too odd, but very Ian. I have LOVED this collection of demos for the better part of two years now. In continual rotation you memorize every tiny detail. With that as a starting point there's bound to be expectations unmet and some exceeded.

His time with Nick Rasculinecz was, by Ian's account, a match made in heaven and Tiny pictures is the evidence. A very clean, crisp recording, fully realizing Ian's vision. I hope over the next few weeks to be able to review each song ad nauseam, like I used to do on the message board (now it's on a blog -- oooo) going in depth with composition, lyric, recording and performance. I think each song has stellar qualities even if not every one moves me to tears.

I also want to commend Thornley fans who write on the message board. They are NOT your average music fan. Both musically knowledgeable, articulate, savvy listeners who demand the BEST from Ian. I learn a lot from reading the criticism, both positive and negative.

I am REALLY enjoying Tiny Pictures, hope for worldwide release and GREAT SUCCESS! After 90 plus unique songs Ian seems to have many more facets to be revealed.


Anonymous said...

Great Report on the CD - I could have never said it better. It is differant!!! The complexity of the writing, rythms and attention to the simpilist detail ended in perfection for Mr. Thornley !!!

Jennifer in Toronto

christine16 said...

I have been listening to my CD on a daily basis and I have to say the more I listen the more I LOVE it...Very diverse lots to keep it interesting. My one dissappointment was there was no song lyrics included and i am a lyric gal so this is another reason I must listen daily but so far so good

Natalie said...

oooo BUK, love that you're still here. Can't wait to read your analyses.

LHK and I just got Tiny Pictures today and the first impression is good. It's nice to have Thornley playing in Meaford again.

Signed, WCG

Anonymous said...

i think your completely right, and especially how most of his more recent fans that were into Come Again for its hard rock full distortion kinda sound, and ill say i was too. I first heard Easy Comes and just loved it with an incredible passion, however its the fans like me that were dissapointed by the new album. I wasnt dissapointed, Tiny Pictures feels more right that any cd ive ever heard, i love the lyrics in "Might Be The End" and in "Your Song", the guitar was a little too soft for me, but the lyrics scored the game winning goal in the end. Its a great album