La La La – Naughty Boy feat. Sam Smith

This track came to me through Vh1 in 2013 and one of the reasons for me to notice it was the beautiful lion like Chow Pei in the music video. This track by Naughty Boy (a.k.a Shahid Khan) also has some shades of Bollywood sounds (the hook ‘La La La’ in a child’s voice) which attracted me to it. I didn’t know of ‘the Sam Smith’ then and this song became even more special when I discovered that it was the him all along!

The music starts of with innocent, gentle synth notes followed by an unexpected la la- na na in a child’s voice. It’s interesting that Sam isn’t singing the hook. The switch between his and the child’s voice lends a unique sonic contrast while also realizing the childish escapism from the unpleasantness of life and its blows. Sam Smith’s beautiful voice does full justice to the underlying angst of the lyric. The music compliments the vocals letting him say everything he has to without ever taking away from it.

At first listen, this track seems like it’s about coping with an abusive relationship by blocking someone out but after a few listens it appears to be about denial and escapism. There seems to be a new element in the relationship (new person, new messiah) which the singer is not willing to accept. Ironically, he does confess that he’s rather be a coward and not confront the ongoing ruin of the relationship. I find it strange that he is so miserable yet would rather drown his partner out than be the one to pull away from the near dead relationship.

Like an unhappy bird trapped in a cage of his own attachment, locked shut by his own cowardice.

Take Care – Drake feat. Rihanna

One of my favorite pop duets, this track found its way to my life  through a borrowed iPod while on bus ride in Himachal, about 6 years ago.

Spinning modern sounds & modern vulnerabilities on a part of Gil Scott-Heron’s original, Drake & Rihanna keep things simple. Two tired souls, worn out by heartbreak but not so damaged that they have given up on love. I like the spirt of this track, there’s honesty, reassurance and then there’s a promise. It’s two close friends urging each other to not let the past stop them from taking another chance as there’s nothing to be ashamed of. There’s comfort in knowing that it is all human and it’s all right to not get it right.

Rihanna’s vocals, while limited only to the hook, still speak volumes of love lost and love to be found. Drake’s larger share of lines are so real and human, he makes vulnerability sound so endearing, and almost cool. The contrast between their voices and style is delightful, with pleasant music working only to support and lift their voices. The synth sounds hold the space while the guitars shoot around with balanced beats adding life to the whole affair.

Makes me think of Netflix’s British Romcom Lovesick. This is what Evie and Dylan would say to each other if they could. 🙂

Cold Little Heart – Michael Kiwanuka

I found the gem called Michael Kiwanuka, thanks to an inflight music library. I instantly fell in love with his soulful, earnest voice loaded with pain and longing. This is song about internal struggle, about the past coming in the way of the present and the singer being aware of its tight clutches on his little heart that’s gone cold, so cold that it’s all that there is to it now.

The extended intro which lasts for over 5 mins, is the highlight of this long track. It stands firm and near complete in its own right, as if it’s said everything it had to, felt everything that was there to feel, gone down the spiral of multiple emotions of regret, pain, guilt, hope and a deep deep resignation, before the vocals rationalise things.

The slow start of soft vocals, almost moaning at first, like innocent ripples of feelings, harmless at first, transcend into intense sounds by joining the deep guitars. The constant strum, a lump of many things  all at once, and then MK’s late vocals capture the realised truth; an apology of sorts with a mild streak of hope and trust in his lover’s belief into a possibility of ‘them’.

Reminds me of Pink’s ‘Don’t Let Me Get Me’ and Julia Roberts’ character in the movie Closer. When one knows that they are their biggest enemy and they just know that it won’t work out because of them. The painful truth striping them off of the privilege of blame.

 

Too Close – Alex Clare

This track came into my life in 2011, possibly through Vh1 or some radio channel in Delhi. The song is a declaration of the end of a friendship and feels like a letter that Alex Clare is singing to his best friend who has developed romantic feelings for him, that he cannot reciprocate. It’s really a lose-lose situation. The irreversibility of falling in love has destroyed the friendship as they knew it, so what must be saved then?

The writing evokes empathy for the protagonist, who is both sorry for his choice in the matter and also somewhat relieved to have finally made it. I like how the vulnerability is expressed with hints of exasperation and despair at the situation. He is doing this for self preservation, after much trying & suffering; pretending loving back, hiding from the friend and then realizing that the only way to get unstuck from this situation is to walk away.

The music starts light, with the synth leading the way followed by the guitar, almost mysterious signifying the hard decision that’s about to be revealed. The sound transitions into a slow yet catchy beat as Alex Clare vocalizes the tension that one might feel while making such a brutally honest confession to a close friend. It is really the chorus that completely surprises with its heaviness and dubstep edge. Without any warning, the wobbly bass appears out of nowhere and takes an otherwise simple song into a whole new complex space.

This song somehow reminds me of rock climber Aron Ralston’s tragic yet liberating choice, on which the movie 127 hours is based. Sometimes one can choose to lose something valuable to become unstuck and save something even more precious.

Do I Wanna Know? – Arctic Monkeys

I heard this track back in 2013 when it was doing rounds of music charts and has since stuck with me because of it’s unique writing, hook and style.

This is (yet another) song on one-sided love where the narrator, Alex Turner, is wondering if it’s okay to keep wondering about his love getting reciprocated or to really find out- ‘Do I Wanna Know?’. It’s the grey space between certainty and uncertainty that seldom ends up being the most comfortable place to be, cushioned by imagination and aspiration. The writing is confessional and of relatable reactions to being struck by love: of listening to songs on repeat, calling after having a few drinks and knowing well that one is stuck on their lover (busy being yours to fall for somebody knew). The words are powerful and make me feel sorry for this lover who is a slave to his longing and fixated on one person. However, Turner’s voice gives away a certain comfort with this all, he is not too angry or desperate, he’s in deep and knows it but is not really obsessive.

I love how the track starts with just drums, then the guitars step in with a nice deep bass, before Turner’s sleepy-ish vocals bare the internal dialogue. The downtempo is great, gives a graver, introspective edge to the words. The interplay between the backing vocals and his, perfectly captures the doubt & pondering in the pre-chorus. Then all the vocals get together in the chorus adding more weight to the emotion. Amidst all this, the lead guitar keeps getting heavier, symbolizing the simmering disappointment that is perhaps now compounded by all the verbalized thought.

A very interesting composition, this. Makes me think of a boat that’s near the shore but doesn’t want to make it there, just wants to keep floating in the emotional sea wishing the tide stayed low and kinder. If only.

Heartbreak Warfare – John Mayer

This song is yet another proof of John Mayer’s ability to capture deep human experiences and emotions in such a simple & vivid manner, both vocally and lyrically. This is really a break up song but written not as a separation that’s happened but as an on-going process of estrangement.

War is an interesting metaphor for how lovers behave when times change. It’s actually sad, how a couple loses sight of everything else and the former lovers focus on how to hurt the other, armed with nothing but words. The mention of another man’s name is a stab in his heart and bombs fly everywhere when one is angry. The futility of it all is highlighted when he innocently asks, “if you want more love, why don’t you say so”; makes me realize how ironically simple questions are the most difficult to resolve, just like in a war. I guess that’s the trouble with attachment, it’s the emotions that govern thought and hence no one really ever wins.

John Mayer’s heartbroken voice is a delight to hear. The music is pleasant, showing that he is hopeful of resolving it. The background guitar holds the song together with the drums and bass making it a smooth composition. The lead solo shows JM’s incredible skills and perfectly symbolizes the situation, capturing the tirades, accusations, agony, irony and the pointlessness of it all.

My favorite line- “Red wine and Ambien, you’re talking s**t again.”

Says everything.

🙂

 

Turn the Page – Metallica

I am re-obsessed with this Metallica cover which I first heard a few years after the release of Garage Inc. ‘Turn the Page’ is originally a track by Bob Seger so I am actually writing about two separate artists in this one post. Bob Seger’s brilliant and heartfelt writing makes this a behind the scenes account of a rock star’s life. Metallica’s aggressive take adds the metal edge making it a completely new sound and a much stronger feeling.

The most distinct feature of this track is its vivid and empathy evoking lyrics that powerfully depict the other side of a rock star’s life, the off-stage time when they are vulnerable, affected and human. It throws light on the moments experienced by a rock star, the many women he meets to never meet again, living in vans and driving miles to play his music, encountering judgment and fearing getting ostracized for his appearance. It juxtaposes the two opposite realities- the highs of being on stage, million miles away from the real world, with the lows of that empty space in the van or bed when thoughts and contemplation sneak in. I like how it is written from the rock star’s perspective and switches the narrative from second person to first.

Kirk Hammett’s slide guitar makes the sound much harder than the sax in Seger’s original, making you pay more attention to what’s really going. It also sonically expresses the agonies and the drudgeries along with the highs of being a performer. James Hetfield pours in heaps of passion, anger and strength to the overall emotion of the song transporting the listener then and there, into the body of this rock musician. He adds so much more drama and emphasis as he goes softer in the bridge- for the pause, as he lies in bed with the amplifiers echoing into his head, only to let Kirk Hammett pick it up again in a breathtaking solo. Lars Ulrich’s drums are perfect just as Jason Newsted’s bass: with Metallica it all adds up so perfectly, it’s really hard to say much. It’s really no wonder that they are one of the greatest heavy metal bands to walk on this planet. They are true gods and I can’t now believe my luck to have watched them live in September.

Goosebumps.