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Saturday, October 30, 2010

SpinTunes #2 Round 2 Review: Dr. Lindyke

I think one thing is clear in this competition. No one will dominate it. I believe that these entries are exceptionally close in quality, as is evidenced by the degree to which everyone is shuffled around since Round One. As it stands, I have absolutely no clue as to who may win in the end... I won't even hazard a guess.

I've documented my expectations and process elsewhere, so I can keep this intro short. Suffice it to say that I'm looking for something that I believe is a great sequel, not just a great song.

As usual for me, I'm focusing on the song itself moreso than production, so I won't be discussing nuances of how it's mixed, or where the EQ is set; nor will I care very much if your vocals are a bit off-key or you're in need of a click track. If it helps you understand my mindset, I'm looking at all of these as demos to be judged for potential, then taken into a professional studio for a complete re-record. There are some caveats to that... if, through your performance, the potential is obvious, you will have an edge over entries where I have to do a lot of mental work. If I can listen without pain, I'll probably listen more closely. And, if your production is integral to the song itself then I'm weighing it more heavily than otherwise.

And now, the effluvium resulting from days of my amateurish ponderation:

Brian Gray - One More Cloud
"3 AM" by Matchbox Twenty
I can say far more about this song than I'm going to. Before anything else, I was struck with the fact that Brian produced an excellent serious song, entirely unlike what I was expecting from him. You need not look beyond the subject matter for a reason. The original song, 3 AM, is angry and frustrated, dealing with Rob Thomas' party mom (her way of coping with cancer). Brian takes this in a very personal direction, dealing with the aftermath of his mother's death. The transition from Matchbox Twenty's self-pity to Brian's genuine grief and loneliness is expertly done. Musically, Brian manages a soaring melody that communicates both love and sorrow without descending into monotony. Not only are the lyrics exceptional, but the melody stands alone and transcends the medium. I can easily see this as an accompaniment to interpretive dance with or without lyrics.. What wraps this up for me is the image of "one more cloud", that being his mother's ashes as they dance away on the wind into a predatory rain. I have rarely heard anything as poetically descriptive as this in a song. When I realized what was happening and noted that all the while, the ashes are referred to as "she", I broke down and cried. Unlike any other sequel in this list, "One More Cloud" makes the original song better on subsequent listens than it was before hearing Brian's song and knowing where it all leads. Brian, this is brilliant. You win. (Dave goes into detail about this song on his blog.)

Edric Haleen - O! Say Can You See?

"The Star Spangled Banner" by Whitney Houston Francis Scott Key
I cannot bring myself to describe "The Star Spangled Banner" as being "by" Whitney Houston. It's by Francis Scott Key, and don't you forget it. However, Whitney Houston's rendition did take it to the #6 spot in the US charts in 2001 (and to #5 in Canada, go figure) making it most solidly and assuredly fair game for this round. Now... full disclosure: I revealed the day before the listening party that if I had written a shadow, I would have based it on "The Star Spangled Banner"... of course, then I found out that Edric had done exactly that. It makes me glad that I didn't shadow, in that he always manages to do it better. In this sequel, the first two lines are a re-write of the opening to Key's classic; but Edric brings the story forward to the present, and instead of describing the smoke-filled skies of Fort McHenry, he provides us with an introspective retrospective of the freedoms for which this flag stands... and their limits. This would not be a sequel to "The Star Spangled Banner" without the iconic lines "O! say can you see...?" and "O! say does that Star Spangled Banner yet wave...?" Edric works them into their proper places without being musically derivative. This is a song that would never itself be a national anthem, but is a worthy commentary on the anthem and the flag America holds dear, being simultaneously thought-provoking and patriotic. Why the hell are you teaching school, Edric? And aren't you proud of me for not using the word "insufferable" in this review? (oh. wait.)

Rebecca Brickley - Elderly Dream
"Teenage Dream" by Katy Perry
Now, this is an interesting thing. One of the challenges faced with writing a sequel is determining whether you're going to use the same style. How do you know when it's appropriate? Well, Bekka knows when it's not, and that's often the harder question. Here she takes "Teenage Dream", a contemporary song, and runs it fifty plus years into the future. What's appropriate for a 19-year-old girl just doesn't cut it when you're 75. "Elderly Dream" is age-appropriate, in both lyrical and musical content, yet is still sexy and playful. I lllllike it. If you were to remix this, Bekka, I'd cut the volume on the handclap just a tad and layer more claps on top of it. It would sound great. I know, because when I play it here at the house everybody claps along. Well done!

Chris Cogott - Roadward Bound
"Homeward Bound" by Simon & Garfunkel
Here's one where I didn't have to refresh my memory of the original. I loves me some Paul Simon, and when I first heard the "lie-lie-lies" I expected a sequel to "The Boxer". I wasn't far off. Chris was careful in his emulation of Paul Simon's style from that period, and it helps that he didn't pull all the influences from one song. The sequel's plot is exceedingly simple... having returned home, the singer's going back on the road taking his girl... The End. Nevertheless, the chorus has a good hook, "Is there still room for a one-man band?" Chris includes a lot of little nods to the original, my favorite being that the singer has given up smoking his "endless stream of cigarettes". This song has shuffled its position up and down this list, having been ranked below some "production" numbers, and then moving its way back up due to its replay value.

Gweebol - Thank You Mr. Postman
"Please Mr. Postman" by The Marvelettes
I expected something quirky and good from Gweebol, and I got it. The original song, "Please Mr. Postman", charted at #1 repeatedly, demanding something special in a sequel. In Gweebol's follow-up, we learn that the boyfriend of the original song is in prison, and that his letters now are welcome only as a pretext for getting close to the Postman himself, the object of Gweebol's affection. This is both terribly clever and more than a little cute. Stylistically this is is an extension of the Marvelettes' original, which is frankly timeless. It manages to capture the original Motown groove and fill it with a brand new tune. More than any other song on this list, I just smiled when listening to this, and kept on smiling.

Charlie McCarron - Over The Bridge
"Under The Bridge" by The Red Hot Chili Peppers
I'm under a double handicap in trying to understand the original song from which this is drawn. First, I've never understood it based on the lyrics alone; and second, owing to Weird Al's parody, all I can imagine is "Bedrock Anthem" when I hear it. Thanks to Google, I now know that it's about Anthony Keidis shooting speedballs under a bridge, thinking that the city of Los Angeles is his only friend. In other words, I still don't get it. But this isn't really about whether I can relate, but how well Charlie pulls off a sequel. My answer is, pretty damned well! First of all, I understand Charlie's lyrics. Second, he pulls off the sound better than the Chili Peppers. I pulled my three sons in for a second opinion, and we're unanimous on that. The "oo-ee-oo-ee-oo" is a great hook. The test remains, does it further the story? I say it does, as it makes clearer those things that are obliquely hinted at in the original and taking it in a different direction. I'm really impressed by the imagery, such as describing the heat of a drug injection as "I feel the sun set under my skin". I'm a sucker for a poetic turn of phrase. This has plenty of that, a great groove, and just enough hint of the Chili Pepper's style to hark back to the original song. VERY nice job.

Inverse T. Clown - Hey, Jessie
"Jessie's Girl" by Rick Springfield
Inverse T. Clown has an interesting take on the style question... "F**k the style, I'm going to do what I want. And what I want to do is a Nintendo soundtrack". It's OK, because while Rick Springfield's tune has a leg up, ITC's lyrics definitely have the edge. The singer's in prison, and is only waiting for his release to go after Jessie's girl with a newfound vengeance! It's funny and it's catchy, and it's infinitely more interesting than the original. This song has what I'm going to call an "engagement factor"... it holds my attention the whole way through. I think ITC won't be surprised that my criticism is performance-based. Yup, timid vocals. Inverse, you sound like you're afraid to wake the neighbors. Step away from the mic and belt that chorus out. Hell, layer some vocals on it.

Ross Durand - Folsom Breakout Blues
"Folsom Prison Blues" by Johnny Cash
People who aren't familiar with Johnny Cash tend to think of him as he was when he was older, after he'd generally slowed and his voice deepened to sub-woofer levels. The thing is, Johnny in his prime was pretty damned energetic on stage, and Ross has effectively captured that here. The song itself was a good choice for Ross, playing to his strengths as a vocalist and guitarist. Taking his queue from the last verse of the original, Ross could naturally segue "Folsom Prison Blues" into either a release or a breakout. Ross takes the risk and goes for the breakout... and he kept the train! As a sequel, this is quality work.

Zarni De Wet - Stacy's Dad
"Stacy's Mom" by Fountains Of Wayne
This is well-produced and well-performed. Zarni's voice has got it goin' on, including the accent. The lyrical direction is likewise excellent. I like the concern for Stacy's dad (and I'm a bit concerned for Stacy herself, come to think of it). The problem is that, despite the different instrumentation, this song borrows too heavily from the original for my comfort. That would be great if this were Fountains of Wayne's sequel, but it's not. A small bit of borrowing is enough to establish common ground with the original, and a number of competitors managed to walk that line. Again, this is not a copy; still, my spider-sense won't shut up, so I can't rate it higher than I have.

Ryan Ruff Smith - Baby, We're Through
"Baby, It's You" by The Shirelles
There is no doubt in my mind that I'm going to rub some folks the wrong way with some of my choices... but they do in some cases boil down to a matter of taste. This is likely one of those. "Baby, We're Through" is extremely well-produced, and yet it fails to keep my attention. I think the problem for me is that the meat of this song, like that of the original, is entirely contained in the title. The original is a variation of the time-worn "I love you for no particular reason" meme common in all ages, but most especially in the 1960s. "Baby, We're Through" is a reversal of that sentiment. Excellent period arrangement and execution doesn't entirely rescue the song from its shallow subject matter for me.

Mitchell Adam Johnson - When Donna Came Back
"Donna" by Ritchie Valens
In the original, Donna hits the road unexpectedly, leaving Ritchie Valens to languish away, and that's pretty much the whole plot. In this sequel, she returns, and her former love refuses to leave the woman he's settled for. "I could never do to her what you once did to me," he croons. Let's hope the singer's present girlfriend never hears this song, or he may never see the knife coming for his heart. "My sense of duty is all that keeps me from tossing her overboard" is not the sort of message you want intercepted by your significant other. Unfortunately, like "Baby, We're Through", this one fails to keep my attention, even though it is very well produced and is stylistically perfect (by the musical style alone it sounds to be about 10 years "later" than the original). I may be missing the boat here, but if so I'll just have to admit to it and move on.

Governing Dynamics - Melt In The Sun (So Many Pretty Ways)
"Fake Plastic Trees" by Radiohead
I'm sure Travis Norris is going to love this... I spend most of my time listening to folks like the people listed on this page, or to music I write myself, so I'm woefully ignorant of mainstream music. So when I first listened to "Fake Plastic Trees" by Radiohead, my initial thought was, "Huh! They sound like Governing Dynamics!" So -- let's take the style as a given. The original's lyrics are more Beatlesque imagery than narrative, which, I suppose, gives a body license to do most anything as a sequel. "Melt in the Sun" isn't a bad take on it. Travis has brought in Joe 'Covenant' Lamb for assistance on the ambitious vocals, and the guitar work is superb, all of which melt together (pardon the expression) into a very polished performance, if such a thing can be said about post-grunge.

Steve Durand - Miranda
"Fernando" by ABBA
The major problem I have with this is that it really needs to get to the meat of the song a lot sooner. It could drop a verse or two from the beginning and shuffle them back in after a chorus. Yes, Steve's vocals could use some help, but ignore that, please... once you get to the chorus the tune itself very nice and smooth. For this contest, though, I'm having a little trouble with it as a sequel. ABBA's English-language version of "Fernando" is about two veterans looking back on their time in the Mexican revolution.  Questionable enough material for a pop song, but ABBA easily carried it off with their stellar musicality. The problem I'm having is that "Miranda" seems to be a re-telling rather than a sequel. What we seem to have here is Fernando himself singing a response to "Miranda", whom we suppose to be the singer of ABBA's hit. Disregarding the challenge, as a song it's fine, and "Miranda" meets the challenge without question; but here I'm giving preference to songs that better further the story as well as have the melodic hook. The hook is there in "Miranda", but it takes a bit too much time to get to it.

Duality - Mars Ain't The Kind Of Place
"Rocket Man" by Elton John
Filling Elton John's shoes is a pretty tall order. My task is to judge this as a sequel... and in so doing, I feel I have to reference the original. "Rocket Man" portrays space as a boring, lonely, 9-to-5 daily drudge; and yet manages to do so with life and with movement. Even as the Rocket Man pines away for his wife on Earth, the song maintains a rhythm and a variety that keeps the listener engaged. By contrast, "Mars" hits a spot emotionally... and then doesn't move from that spot. It stays there for 4 minutes and 42 seconds. Now... I interpret this departure of style as a sort of parallel to a long-haul trucker or seafarer who arrives home to his sleeping wife -- not wanting to jar her awake, he addresses her gently and tenderly. If this is anywhere near accurate, then to me the song sounds about a minute and fifteen seconds too long. Musically, there are glimpses of some beautiful phrasing, but it gets washed out, like looking at a sunset through rose-colored glasses. I think the best analogy I can think of here is that a broad enough plateau simply looks like flat ground despite its height. There's a lot of beauty and sweeping stellar imagery here, but I think it loses sight of the fact that the Rocket Man has just returned to Earth, and nowhere does the tune itself do that. We need some contrast here that enhances the more beautiful phrases by showcasing them in relief.

Common Lisp - Science (In The Service Of Beauty)
"She Blinded Me With Science" by Thomas Dolby
I like Paul's concept... our scientist is rich and famous and can now woo Miss Sakamoto from a position of power. Nice. Musically, though, Thomas Dolby is a hard act to follow, and this doesn't quite do it for me. I think perhaps the mistake here is in trying to replicate the new wave techno-pop sound and missing. The first thing I think one should notice about the style Dolby used is that that the effects and shouts are tightly arranged instrumentation... there's nothing random about them. Probably a better choice here would have been to use the intervening years (wow... 28 years since 1982!) as grounds for employing a more updated style. As the song's concept is that now the scientist is older, powerful and in control; it seems to me that this change in age and status should be reflected in a more sedate style that would play more to Paul's strength.

Danny Blackwell - Like A Family

"Wannabe" by The Spice Girls
Honestly, I think the best thing Danny could have done here is pick another song to write a sequel to. Of course he met the challenge... but what he's responding to is a fresh, sassy, hip-hop anthem of female empowerment; and his response is a slowly drawled ballad containing a counter-demand that she set aside that empowerment and all her friends, and go live the entirety of her life with this quaint little fellow in a quaint little cottage somewhere in the quaint countryside and play house. Not exactly what I'd call a convincing argument, on many levels. I'm not even buying the "she left me with a kid" angle, as I'd have to first buy into the premise that she could possibly get that drunk. (And for the record, I'm not slamming Danny, but the protagonist of the song, Mr. Get-Your-Ass-Back-In-The-Kitchen). I know Danny's going for the yuks, but it's just not working for me. Sorry.


Ben Walker - When I'm A Hundred And Two
"When I'm Sixty-Four" by The Beatles
Awwwww maaaaaan... We were pretty certain that by giving a specific, measurable guideline (Billboard Top 20) that we'd avoid any question of whether a song should be qualify for this round. When in doubt, simply check the Billboard (and Travis provided the link). While "When I'm Sixty-Four" is undeniably famous, it never charted in the Top 20 anywhere... and don't think we judges didn't look hard on international lists, and for covers... anything that would get this song to qualify. No such luck. Sadly, "When I'm A Hundred And Two" is disqualified for that reason. And that's a shame, as it would have placed highly. I love the style, I love the message, I love the instrumentation, I love the execution, and I love the fact that Ben once again produced a quintessentially British song that uses his voice to best effect. When I'm done writing these reviews I may hang myself in sorrow. I selfishly beg you to shadow the next round, Ben.


Austin Criswell

Charlie Wolf

Wait WHAT?


Due to time, I'm not reviewing the shadows this time except to mention to JoAnn Abbott... WELL DONE. I know you got assistance for the music and harmonies, but the concept, lyrics and tune make it your song. It's a fitting extension of the original, and hits the style both musically and lyrically. Really... well done.

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