The Strypes’ “Spitting Image” Is A Spitting Image of Brilliance

the_strypes_js_250417

I know it’s been quite a while since I posted two blog posts in one week, but I figured that it was high time I blogged about one of my favorite bands from this decade, The Strypes. If you happened to see the movie ‘Sing Street’ last year, about a teenage band from Ireland who is trying to make it big, this band is essentially the real-life version of Sing Street. They’re all Irish and around 20 years old, but instead of drawing from 80s bands like Duran Duran, they reach farther back in their bucket of influences to the blues, the Rolling Stones, Nick Lowe, and other artists from the 60s and 70s. I’ve been following them since their first album, Snapshot, came out in 2014. That album was much rawer and more bluesy than this album, which feels more fully produced. I also recently became aware of their sophomore album, Little Victories, which came out in 2015 but is not available on iTunes or Spotify. Out of the few songs I’ve listened to on that album, “Get Into It” is a standout, and I may end up buying the CD on Amazon and uploading it to iTunes to hear it in its entirety.

One memorable moment from their promotion of Snapshot came when they performed on The Late Show with David Letterman, which I believe was their live debut on American television. Take a look at that here, and notice how fired up David Letterman is after their performance. I don’t blame him, I bet they’d be electrifying to see live.

However, though I enjoyed their loud, unapologetic rock ‘n roll sound from Snapshot, I think that Spitting Image is a huge step forward for them musically. Their lyrics are more mature and complex here, they dabble with musical elements like a saxophone solo, harmonicas, keyboards, and more, and in general their sound feels a bit more modern and acoustic. They still sound delightfully retro to me though, which is one of the things I love most about them. Song after song on this album is musically interesting, and when I first listened to it, I couldn’t believe I was hearing an album that was released this year. It sounded like it should have been released 35 years ago, which for my musical taste is an excellent sign.

As I’ve done before when discussing specific albums, I’m going to write approximately one-two sentences about every song on the album, to give you a good overview of my thoughts:

  1. Behind Closed Doors – This song has a fantastic music video to accompany it, but besides that it has a bouncy, poppy melody and interesting lyrics that stick in your head. It’s a wonderful, upbeat opening track that sets the tone well for the rest of the largely upbeat album.
  2. Consequence – The guitar tone on this song shifts effortlessly between somber and bouncy, which helps make it one of my favorites on the album. It makes me feel nostalgic for something, though I’m not sure what, which is always a sign that a song has grabbed my emotions tightly with no intention of letting go.
  3. (I Need A Break From) Holidays – This sounds SO MUCH like the band Squeeze, especially during the verses, that it’s almost uncanny, but I see it as more of a loving tribute than a direct copy. Either way, it’s a really fun song with a tightly packed structure that is another of my favorites on the album and one that I already intend to listen to as much as I can.
  4. Grin And Bear It – I love the opening guitar riff for this song, which also sounds reminiscent of a Squeeze song, and the drums throughout drive the song nicely. This one stands out less than the other songs on the album, but despite that it’s a very likable song that’s worth many listens.
  5. Easy Riding – I absolutely love the chorus to this song, possibly because it is quite Beatle-esque and very infectious. The whole song is fun and a great feel-good song to pass the time during lazy summer days.
  6. Great Expectations – This was my introduction to Spitting Image, and is one of those rare songs that I fell in love with after hearing only 10 seconds of the song. This may be the best overall production of a song on the album. From the opening acoustic riff, to the very singable chorus, to the closing sax solo, it fits my definition of an “instant classic” as a song that should immediately be cherished.
  7. Garden of Eden – This is probably my least favorite song on the album, if only because it sounds like a dated tribute to psychedelic 60s rock with a bit of bluesy harmonica thrown in. It’s all right, but it’s a bit tedious and plodding, though it’s still cool to listen to.
  8. A Different Kind Of Tension – The opening here reminds me a lot of the song “Laughing Out Loud” by the Wallflowers, which I love. This song also features an inviting harmonica part and a driving bass line. This song also blends into the album a bit for it to be one of my favorites, but it is still a wonderful song.
  9. Get It Over Quickly – Another Strypes song that derives its strength from a driving guitar part that bleeds into a solo and then morphs back in to the opening riff, it features I believe one of the overall best guitar parts on the album.
  10. Turnin’ My Back – This song has possibly the most infectious guitar riff out of all the wonderful guitar riffs on this album, and it’s a really fun highlight of the second half of this album! There really is nothing like a great, memorable guitar riff that repeats just the right amount of times in a catchy song.
  11. Black Shades Over Red Eyes – The second half of this song is a beautifully melodic interplay of guitar parts that feed into a very Beatles-esque outro. The first half is also great, with a very catchy chorus, so overall it’s a very worthwhile jam.
  12. Mama Give Me Order – This song is a lovely acoustic departure from the album’s largely upbeat, electric sound. It’s very Lennon-esque, which for an guitar ballad, and coming from a Beatles fan, is a huge compliment.
  13. Oh Cruel World – You could practically sing the Who’s “Magic Bus” along to this song and you wouldn’t notice the difference, but aside from that this is a really fun song with a GREAT harmonica part that’s worth singing along to, with no shame.

To be honest, though, words really cannot describe just how happy this album makes me that it exists. It represents a type of quality song construction and production so rarely seen among younger mainstream artists today, in my opinion. Every one of these songs feels complete and packed with instrumental and vocal goodness, with no stone left unturned in terms of production possibilities. This album, along with the upcoming Foster the People album, will surely be played heavily in my summer musical rotation. It also gives me hope that the Strypes will have staying power in the music industry for years to come.

I am sincerely thankful that I stumbled upon the Strypes a few years ago while reading something about Elton John, as apparently he is among their celebrity fans. While their lyrics may be, to quote a review I read, “sophomoric” at times, this band shows so much untapped musical promise that they deserve a bigger stage. This summer alone, the Strypes are supporting Liam Gallagher and The Killers, among others, which is a huge chance for them to break into some new fans’ hearts. I am always happy to hear of their new concert announcements on Facebook, but unfortunately their popularity is still contained mostly in the UK and they seem to only tour there.

If anyone connected with the Strypes is reading this, please know that you have at least one big fan here in the U.S. who would absolutely love for you to do concerts stateside. Part of my intention with this post was honestly to give the Strypes some free publicity for their fantastic album. Given that about 1500 people read this blog every month, hopefully some of those visitors are also looking for some new music and check out the Strypes after reading this. I believe so much in the future success of this band, and Spitting Image further solidifies how much I appreciate that this type of music is still being produced. This may sound cliché, but the Strypes truly restore my faith in modern rock music. Rock may seem like an old man’s game now, but the Strypes show me that there are younger bands who are a “Spitting Image” of their musical predecessors, just waiting to make a splash. I’ve been listening to this album on repeat for days, and I can’t wait for more hours of repetition in the coming weeks. “Spitting Image” is what good music is all about.

What Makes a Song Good?

george_on_bed_with_guitar-550x369

George clearly contemplating the writing process, with guitar in tow

Today I’d like to discuss a topic that’s been coming to my mind recently as I’ve listened to Beatles songs and other songs alike, and that is, how do we as music listeners actually decide why a song is good or bad? The most important thing to remember here is that there really is no objective measurement of “goodness” or “badness” of a song. You can pretty much conclusively determine if someone is a skilled or unskilled piano player, but it’s a bit more murky to extend that level of objective analysis to judging the quality of an entire song. Of course, there are certainly songs I think are better than others, so here are a few points of comparison between songs and some examples to support that, both from the Beatles and from other artists I admire.

One point that’s recently been floating around in my mind is the idea of “good” songs balancing vocal and instrumental melodies. That is, the melody of the instruments is as important to the beauty and structure of the song as the melody of the vocals. This is assuming we’re discussing traditionally structured “pop” songs here, not 11-minute long instrumental jams. I hate to sound like a grump, but I find that so many modern pop songs have little instrumental substance and it’s all about highlighting the singer and their impressive growl or sky-high vocal riffs. There’s something about a song that has, say, an interesting opening guitar riff, melodic vocals, and other scattered instrumental breaks that just feels more complete to me. Songs like this also communicate that the quality of the song is what is most important, not the singer’s vocal talent. There’s a distinct, noticeable difference to me between a song that exists to celebrate beautiful, thoughtful music and a song that exists for a singer to show off how high they can belt.

Both categorizations have their place in the music industry, but the Beatles were musicians first and foremost and wrote songs that nearly always fall into the former category. Take “Eleanor Rigby,” for example. The staccato strings are really the iconic part of this song, not the Beatles singing. They sound great, obviously, but this song is a fraction of its final self without George Martin’s incredible string arrangement. Luckily Beatles fans are blessed with an officially-released instrumental version of this on the Anthology 2 album, and this may be the finest example of a Beatles song in which I actually prefer the solo orchestration to the complete song. There’s just so many interesting things to notice when you listen to only the string part, so many percussive strokes and instrumental counterparts, and it conveys the message of the song’s lyrics almost as well as the singing itself. But the complete song itself is what I highlight as a perfect example of a song that values its instrumentation just as much as its vocals.

In case that all weren’t enough to celebrate, it’s just over 2 minutes long and it feels perfectly complete. The song doesn’t thematically or instrumentally need to be any longer. There are no wasted notes here; they all contribute to the moving final product. The song’s inherent structure is so well-thought-out that it carries the beauty of the song all by itself. The more I listen to “Eleanor Rigby,” honestly, the more I marvel at it. It’s quickly moving up my list of favorite Beatles songs.

Another Beatles song that demonstrates their mastery of vocal and instrumental balance is “Here Comes The Sun.” This song features such a delicate, airy acoustic guitar part that I do wish there were an official version of just the instrumental parts without any of the Beatles’ vocals. It also features a lovely string arrangement, but rather than that being the star of this song, the interplay between the strings and the guitar combine to support the beautiful vocal part. “Here Comes The Sun” is absolutely a George Harrison masterpiece that is quickly becoming my new favorite Beatles song, mostly because the guitar is soothing and relaxing. I once heard a rare version of this song that features an additional overdubbed guitar solo, but I felt that it overpowered the rest of the song and did not mesh with the existing acoustic part. “Here Comes The Sun” is simply perfect and musically balanced the way it is.

In general, I feel that with songs I really admire, I could take out the vocals entirely and listen to only the instrumental backing and I’d love the song just as much. One example of a non-Beatles song that perfectly fits this description is “Sultans of Swing” by Dire Straits. The separated, choppy, yet beautifully melodic guitar part always hooks me from the second that the song comes on the radio. I really do feel that this song would function almost as well as a wholly instrumental song. I say “almost” because I do also feel that part of the reason the guitar here is so enchanting is because of how it counters the vocals by providing continual instrumental breaks throughout the song. These “breaks” wouldn’t exactly be breaks if they were not broken up by an intervening vocal part, now would they. This song, unlike the previous two, does not feature any sort of orchestration. Its notable instrumental part is almost strictly guitar, but the guitar here has a life of its own and  beautifully carries the melodic weight of the song so that no additional instrumentation is necessary for the song to feel complete.

Slightly unrelated, but this song also directly connects to the Beatles by featuring a lyrical reference to “guitar George” who “knows all the chords” and “doesn’t want to make them cry or sing.” There’s a chance this isn’t intentionally referring to “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” but it seems more likely than not. After all that, I’m actually not 100% positive that this is a Beatles reference, but given that George Harrison is by far the most famous rock guitarist named George that I can think of, I’ll stick with this theory until proven wrong. Perhaps the guitar part throughout this song is meant as an ode to George’s carefully crafted Beatles guitar parts, which would certainly  explain why I love the song.

Much of the Beatles’ legend rests on their reinvention of the very idea of successful pop songs, and as this blog continually states, I do believe that they are still the masters of crafting songs with incredible attention to vocal and instrumental balance. However, they also epitomize the magical formula that I find takes a song from average to excellent, and that is a balance between highlighting vocals and highlighting instrumentals. It doesn’t necessarily have to be split 50/50, but I do feel that songs with a celebrated instrumental part, like the songs all mentioned above, possess more overall beauty than songs without.

I could go on and on about Beatles songs that feature a beautiful balance between vocals and instrumentals, and how this is also present in wonderful songs by other artists, but I’ll save that for another post. Until then, continue braving the long, cold, lonely winter and finding sunshine in your favorite songs.

Top 10 Beatles songs to listen to in the car

I got the idea for this post while listening to Breakfast with the Beatles in the car this morning, and I thought it might be helpful if any readers are looking to make a Beatles driving playlist. The songs here don’t necessarily have to do with driving subject-wise, but I think that the vibes of all these songs are conducive to driving (or passenging). Feel free to disagree or come up with your own list. Here we go!

10. I Want To Hold Your Hand

I’m not going to say a ton about each song on this list, but the opening riff to this is just so good. It’s a great song to sing along to and it’s always a crowd pleaser. If it comes on the radio, crank it up and enjoy!

9. If I Needed Someone

Again, it’s really the riff here that makes this a “car song” for me. The relaxing, slightly lazy pace makes it perfect for any drive, any time. This is one I would listen to with the windows open, unless it’s snowing. Then, definitely close the windows. 🙂

8. A Hard Day’s Night

This is a great car song mostly because the opening chord is so instantly recognizable. It’s nice to know exactly what song is playing in the car without having to take your eyes off the road (or if you’re passenging, your phone, most likely), so this song is a great candidate for any Beatlemaniac’s car playlist.

7. I Am The Walrus

I’m going to assume that no one driving will be tripping on LSD (which would be very dangerous indeed), so I don’t think listening to this in the car will blow your mind TOO much… Anyway, I’m not exactly sure why I chose this song for this list. Once again, the opening is very famous, but aside from that, I just like it a lot. Not that I ever really do this, but if I were driving around with friends late at night and the car windows were open, this is the song I would want to bother the neighborhood with.

6. Day Tripper

For anyone who thinks this song is literally about taking day trips to the countryside, you’re wrong. It’s slightly more metaphorical (and naughtier) than that. But anyway, this riff combined with the awesome harmonies and the chorus makes it a fantastic song to listen to in the car. As I’ve said before, this is definitely one of my top 5 favorite Beatles songs. For a brief time, you can at least imagine that it’s about day trips. 🙂

5. Help!

Once again, the instantly recognizable opening makes it a good car song. I also think that the layered, call and-response harmonies throughout have a sort of Beach Boys-ish vibe that makes me think of driving cars in California. (again, I am clearly not a Californian…)

4. Get Back

This song is literally about going back to somewhere, and it mentions California and Arizona (two states 3,000 miles from me), so I thought it would be a good addition to this list. I think I’ve said this before, but I really like the drums on this song for some reason. Even after everything they had already accomplished musically in such a short time, the Beatles still found ways to innovate on this album.

3. One After 909

This isn’t a hugely popular Beatles song, but it REALLY makes me think of cruising along a highway on a nice day. I love the keyboards and guitar on this track. A relatively unknown Beatley tidbit is that this was actually one of the first songs the Beatles wrote, way back in the late 1950s. There’s a couple of versions of this on Anthology 1, but I definitely prefer this faster Let It Be version to any of the earlier ones.

2. Back in the USSR

This is a classic, and the plane sound effect at the beginning gets me every time. Again, I love listening to this in the car because it’s so upbeat and has a fantastic guitar solo. Many of you may know that Ringo quit the band for a bit while they were making the White Album, so who do you suppose plays drums on this song? That’s right, it’s the multi-instrumentally talented Paul!

Annnnd…

1. Drive My Car

So it might be a bit of a cop-out to have this as #1, but I honestly could not think of a better choice. The “driving cars” in this song may be metaphorical (I bet you can guess what it refers to…), but it’s still a great song to listen to in the car! And come on, who doesn’t love the “Beep beep, beep beep, yeah!” part? Just don’t honk the horn along with that part, as you may get some Looks of Doom from neighboring drivers. 🙂

So, that’s it for this list. On my list of “future posts,” in case you’re interested: Top 10 non-Beatles songs to listen to in the car, reviews of Phillip Phillips’ “Behind the Light” and U2’s “Songs of Innocence,” my thoughts on Conan’s George Harrison Week, and much more. Stay tuned folks!

George Harrison’s gently weeping guitar

Today, I’ve decided to share some videos of George playing lead guitar live. These videos are few and far between because 1, George didn’t perform live very often after the Beatles broke up, and 2, when he did, someone else usually played lead guitar. However, in these videos, George and his magical guitar finally get a chance to shine, and let me tell you, he does not disappoint. I would not consider myself a guitar expert AT ALL, but I’d like to think that I can recognize good guitar playing when I hear it, and in my opinion, George is simply a master slide guitarist, and a master guitarist in general. His playing is instantly recognizable and always flawless. So, enjoy these videos of a master at work! Go George!

My sweet Lord, the intro to this song is amazing! It’s so beautiful and perfectly done! I almost wish it was on the original song, but truthfully, the original song is perfect as well. And then there’s the rest of the song, which is played so beautifully that my eyes gently weep at the sight of it. Also, George sounds wonderful on this song. He never lost his singing voice as he got older.

I couldn’t find a video with just Till There Was You from the Ed Sullivan show, so to see that song here, skip to 2:35 in the video. I think George played the solo better live than on record. His solo here is smooth, sophisticated, and effortlessly played, and I love the cute looks he gives to the audience and the camera while playing. It’s almost like he’s saying, “Yeah, I’m good. Wanna stop screaming and freaking out so you can actually hear me play? Thanks.” For the Beatles’ first appearance on national American TV, he certainly didn’t look nervous at all.

George’s slide playing here is ridiculously good, and he makes it look so easy! I’m so glad that even with Eric Clapton as part of his backing band, George’s guitar playing got a chance to shine here. What I’d give to have been at this concert in Japan in 1991… Unfortunately, I wasn’t even born yet. Darn.

Another example of George playing some pretty awesome slide guitar in his mini-tour of Japan in 1991. Wow, he was good. His guitar playing gives his songs so much character. Also, I have to say that, live and on record, this is one sexy song. And the man singing it isn’t half bad either! 🙂

This performance of While My Guitar Gently Weeps is absolute perfection, except for that stupid microphone that keeps spinning. Even years after the Beatles, George still can’t get a good mic! Anyway, the reason why I really love this video is the epic guitar duel between George and Eric Clapton for the last 2 minutes of the video. Two legends in their own right, battling it out. In my opinion, they’re both winners!

That’s all for now. Have a lovely week!