Friday, February 27, 2009

Radar Blip

As a disclaimer, I am in no way connected to the band and have no real insight into what Ian writes about. This is pure fanboy (yeah a boy still lives in this wrinkled old carcass) musing.

Well here goes. I've had a few weeks to ingest, digest, regress and progress.

I've a had a real up and down relationship with Tiny Pictures to date. Some of the message board comments and the meager internet reviews, I think, are founded in some valid points. There is some surprising unevenness to aspects of this recording that bug me. To me it's a mixture of raw artistic integrity, meets ready current market, meets high expectations. That's a lot of pre-conception going in.

The demos were pure, unadulterated, unfettered, unadorned genius. I really liked the more raw production on some numbers. One day Ian will release those demos in a cleaner form (If I say it, it will happen). Perhaps I'm leaning on two years of familiarity. I LIKED the uneven echoey drumming. I LIKED the sweet old style backing vocals. I LOVED the warmth. We trade that in on the "known" tracks for the crisp polished sheen of the new CD. Shiny, spikey modern production has it's pluses and minuses. Instruments seem to "pop" in where on the demos they swelled from background to front. The edges of the envelope are sharp. The vocal harmonies sounded "40's - 50's old school" where now they sound current. The demos were more live/cohesive and now they punch. Neal made a great point on the message board when he described the recording as "close mic'd". Everything is right up to the mic. This is as clear a nod to a modern audience as I've seen. I know most radio listeners could no more get into the demos style of music than say, bluegrass, but to me they represent where Ian's inspiration lives and this is where I know he shines. It's just not commercially viable now.

So lets' get it on.

There are four types of songs on this CD as far as I can tell. A good formula I think. Each suffers/benefits from market driven decisions. There's the Radio Ragers, Galloping Ravers, Ian's Country Heart and Retro Classic Rockers. They all have a current rock radio shine on them to make a more cohesive package. It is a business that inherently demands compromise.

I'm gonna try to look at this from the seed/inspiration/intent to the final product. From a design standpoint, does it accomplish it's intent?

Nick's involvement; Daniel Adair's involvement; the entire solo-in-the-studio move seems to be a corporate move to sell. DUH; business IS business.

Underneath the Radar - Radio Rager
The reviews call the "electronic" opening odd for Thornley. To anyone who's heard the "Oaf" it's nothing new. It's just that guitar delay that we're all so familiar with in a clipped form. When I heard Under at the Gage Park show I was not really a fan of this song. It seemed disjointed and quirky. That being said, the opening track (does that even matter anymore to the ituned generation?) has grown on me.

I always read some psychological nonsense into what people say. I'm a REAL JOY to live with; just ask my wife. So Under sounds to me like a guy angry with someone NOT in the spotlight with a lot to say in the shadows. Record co exec? Manager? Bandmate? Chirpy wife? In the latest interviews Ian says he struggles with trying to write a non-personal lyric that he can "sell". That's why I always sense a personal angle to his lyrics.

We'd never make it anyway
We never were that real
with everything we've done
you think that there'd be something
left for you and I

Is this a band that's struggling for commercial success with no answers why? An awfully fatalistic viewpoint. Maybe it's revealing of his move to solo. He's the blip on the radar. The one to keep an eye on. He's always in the driver seat creatively (funny he has no license). He's the one who takes the hits. He's the insecure megalomaniac driving the decisions and fretting the consequences (more on that later).

Musically the song is pretty dry. To my jaded ears it's just standard dynamics that populate the radio today. Processed chorus, predictable explosions, tight down tuned riffage, overwrought throaty vocals. A perfect radio package with just enough quirk to get noticed. "Hey it's that song with the haunting kids choir." I hear some synth sounds that sound like some of Eleven. That maudlin Euro-synth that echoes more Edith Piaf than anything of today. The influences/peices seem to fit more and more.

I bristle at the obvious decisions made to market at first. But given repeated listens like you would in high rotation on the radio you can see why it works. You cannot get it out of your head. I listened to Make Believe 1000 times and skipped Under before it was released. But while writing this I listened like 10 times with no fatigue. It's a pretty damn good song.

Sometimes I get the impression that Ian's released songs are like cryptic messages smuggled out of the prison of his target market cell. Notes undecipherable by the corporate guards. Disguised by Finger Eleven/Three DaysGrace/Saliva multi-voiced choruses and fat grindy riffs, with just enough twists and frills to satisfy some of the deeper proggers willing to wade through.

By the immediate reaction of some it doesn't pass the test. IMHO Ian suffers from too many cooks massaging the hooks... but upon further inspection... maybe they are right.... something cool is happening.

Sometimes I just need to take a holiday from being overly critical of what I think Ian should do and just enjoy his music. I feel more better (as my grandson would say).

Some VERY exhilarating joyful noise on this CD. This is gonna be fun. See you in a few days.

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