One Sunday afternoon you go about rummaging through your attic, looking for items to donate to a local rescue mission…..and suddenly you find yourself re-acquainted with a bedroom poster depicting your favorite artist growing up, lightly caked in dust. At that very moment you let out a bittersweet sigh, and fondly stare into space as you reminisce of an early flame that came and went in your life, while that artist contributes the soundtrack to your saudade.
Which brings us to “Springsteen”: the third single from Eric Church’s breakout album Chief and follow-up to his first-ever chart-topping single “Drink In My Hand”.
Predictably, the track is another in a growing line of songs that purposefully references the name of another established artist or hit song (such as “Tim McGraw” and “All Summer Long”) for the purpose of reminiscing on a treasured memory, and is also heavy on references to some of the most definitive hits of that artist’s career (i.e. “I’m On Fire”, “Born to Run”, “Glory Days”, “Born in the USA”). On the surface, it appears little worth examining.
I invite you to gaze a little deeper.
“Springsteen” is every bit as semi-melancholy as it is a fond glimpse back at the past, with a gravity of shimmering sadness driving its production that is most closely tied to the Boss’s 1987 tortured-heart testimonial “Tunnel of Love”. Steered by a drum machine, and besprinkled with misty-eyed synthesizers and chatoyant glints of keyboard, “Springsteen” is without question far-removed from decidedly country soundscapes, but more resembles the sound of one of the Boss’s lesser-known releases, “Tougher Than The Rest”, albeit softer around the edges.
Church also channels Springsteen’s spoken-word style of singing here, with an understated, pensive and reflective vocal delivery in the verses that leaves you believing he is re-evaluating his slate of memory as he is speaking. The first verse, which sets the scene in reminiscing on a now seemingly distant world “somewhere between that setting sun, ‘I’m on Fire’ and ‘Born to Run’”, poignantly ends with the last line: “I can still hear the sound of you sayin’ don’t go…”
After a decidedly carefree, warm first verse overall, this last line before the first chorus sets the stage to the remaining direction of the track. Church sings the first chorus as though, upon looking back on the amplitude of the memory and suddenly feeling the sting of saudade, he feels the impetus to belt off his chest exactly what he sees in his mind’s eye when he thinks of that former flame: a seventeen-year old self gazing at the stars on a July Saturday night.
The second verse begins with an equal sort of urgency, where he croons:
“I bumped into you by happenstance, you probably wouldn’t even know who I am, but if I whispered your name, I bet there’d still be a spark…”
He goes on to suggest that he used to be gasoline, admitting that those were the “glory days” and, thus, nothing he has experienced since then has quite compared to them. That doesn’t necessarily suggest or prove, straight up, that the protagonist is unhappy in the present by any stretch. But I do find it telling that he’d use the metaphor of “gasoline” within the second verse, as though he is admitting there’s a sort of vitality which that memory is teeming to the brim with that he has never quite been able to replicate……going so far as to wonder if, perhaps, there’s still time to give it another shot with her. That is, if she still thinks of him.
Does she still fondly regard him? There is slight reason to believe she does, as evinced in the coda, where Church’s propulsive “Whoa whoa, oh oh oh!” softly evokes a call-and-response effect, mimicked by an unknown female voice. Is the voice indeed that of his former lover? Or is it the murmuring of a muse? It could well be interpreted as either.
These emotionally ambiguous nuances, and the burst-of-sunlight-piercing-through-the-clouds production, are what elevate what could otherwise have been a paint-by-numbers ode to young love to a whole other level. You can practically imagine Church standing there outside her house on a Saturday night, holding onto the faintest hope she’s been watching him too as she’s dressed up in blue……….praying she’ll say yes to another dance. And you’re rooting for a happy ending, yet also feel a chill going up your spine fearing his effort will be met in vain: finding his star-crossed self pacing one step forward, two steps back.
“Springsteen” is a gorgeous, bittersweet anthem-to-be that will likely leave even some more hardened hearts simultaneously smile and cry listening. As Church’s best single to date, it will all but certainly take his career to the next level, even as he’s already selling out venues left and right at the dawn of his “Blood, Sweat & Beers” tour as we speak.
Come on, Eric. There’s no foolin’ us that you’re any more tougher than the rest of us, behind that brilliant discount shaded disguise. Lift them up from over your eyes and show us your tears. Atta boy, Chief!
Written by Eric Church, Jeff Hyde, and Ryan Tyndell
Via Facebook’s “Share” feature, you have probably bumped into a satirical motivational poster by now with this text:
PROCRASTINATION: “Hard Work Often Pays Off After Time, But Laziness Always Pays Off Now.”
On paper, this certainly shows with regard to the newly-released fifth single, “No Hurry”, from the industrious Zac Brown Band’s current album You Get What You Give: vying to tie Rodney Crowell’s record for most Billboard Hot Country Song #1 hits from a single album.
As you could indubitably guess from the title alone, this song depicts a passive protagonist whittling the day away and basking in faineancy without a care in the world. Lyrically, it regurgitates all-too-familiar images associated with relaxed, simple living. Old cane fishing pole? Check! Fold-up easy chair? Check! Hiding out from the “bossman”? Gotta have that, right?
It also follows an all-too-familiar narrative arc, where the first two verses are concerned with personal details, while the third and final verse moves onto more universal ruminations with regards to life and death (“Heaven knows that I ain’t perfect, I’ve raised a little cain. And I plan to raise a whole lot more, before I hear those angels sing…”)……..and feels the need to obligatorily exclaim “Gonna get right with the lord!” immediately after so not to, you know, displease the Focus On The Family types.
From the band that has already given us “Knee Deep” this time around, it sounds, straight-up, consonant to the band’s strengths. Who can go wrong with a harmless ditty that would probably make for a fine official anthem in observance of the Day After New Year’s Day, and the inevitable plentitude of nullified resolutions that appear in its wake?
So, lyrics aside………why does the band sound like it’s trying too hard here?
Ironically, Brown sounds as though he’s trying to give it his all vocally. By the time we reach the climatic final verse, he actually sounds like he’s rehearsing for a Bud Light “Real Men of Genius” television advertisement promo as opposed to singing an ode to quiet living (imagine that…….Zac Brown saluting Mister Croup-Preventing Skullcap Weaver………if not Mister Sweet Tea, Pecan Pie & Homemade Wine Fixer-Upper! ;) )
He certainly doesn’t sound laid-back by that point. He sounds like he’s starting to run a cold sweat. Which underscores the main reason I can’t seem to connect with this. The band actually makes procrastination sound……….dare I say it…………not any fun at all. Even funereal.
Jimmy De Martini provides another hearty helping of fiddle here that nevertheless only reinforces this lasting impression that the effort would sound better fitted to a late-autumn dirge than to the scents of early spring. Come on, fellas, you assured me before the only thing I ought to fear is if the tide is going to reach this easy chair!
Then again, as far as we know, perhaps that is the point. After all, “No Hurry”, punctuated by mournful fiddle throughout, may not be so much about celebrating procrastination than, from a more practical standpoint, accepting that we’d be fools not to worry about everything we can’t change in a more philosophical sense…….or else, in doing so, we would be fated to the tagline of another satirical, grimmer motivational poster on the issue of procrastination, depicting a dying goldfish in a dirty bowl:
PROCRASTINATION: “It’s, Hands-Down, Our Favorite Form Of Self-Sabotage”
Either way you skin it, “No Hurry” is a time-waster in that it fails to inspire either a rousing or reflective quality…….resulting in their weakest of ten singles to date. In spite of that, expect this to quite likely make history in making the Zac Brown Band the first group in the history of country music to produce five Billboard Hot Country Song #1s from a single album.
See, what did I tell you? Laziness Always Pays Off Now! Even for a band whose work ethic and rise to stardom has been anything BUT slothful.
Written by Zac Brown, Wyatt Durette, and James Otto
According to Rascal Flatts bass guitarist Jay DeMarcus, the banjo has become an elusive, endangered species.
(So is a Rascal Flatts rocker that doesn’t want to make you jam with anyone named Elroy, throw away your old Igloo cooler and lose your appetite every time you see a Sonic Drive-In.)
To put the lead single from the formidable trio’s forthcoming eighth studio album in perspective, a brief backstory of the instrument in the spotlight is warranted.
Indeed, the banjo has been long revered as a quintessential ingredient in not only country music, but as an integral part of all American music. Brought to the United States via the slave trade (the earliest documented mentioning of a “banshaw” is generally believed to be 1678, from an autobiographal note in Martinique that describes a convergence of slaves prior to deportation in which one is depicted plucking a “banza”.) Thomas Jefferson, himself, would later recognize this instrument in 1781, who referred to it as a “banjar.”
From the formation of the Sweeney Mistrels to their integration into parlors in mid-nineteenth century Boston, from the emergence of celebrated banjo legends such as Charlie Poole and Earl Scruggs during the mid-twentieth century to helping differentiate American country music from Western European influences then onward……..the banjo, in all its clawhammered, fast-arpeggiated glory, has stood the tests of time and its legacy is secure.
Tragically, recent years have not been kind to this tone-ringed, sometimes fretless, watermark. Since its heyday, it has been relegated from the forefront of traditional American music to something treated like “natural flavor” to add a hint of distinctive zest to modern country radio tracks. You’d be hard-pressed, in fact, to find something on your local radio station’s playlist that prominently features a banjo as opposed to merely being submerged in the mix.
But no need to fear, y’all! Rascal Flatts are back to rescue this five-stringed wonder from obscurity………..I guess.
According to an interview by DeMarcus on the eve of this single’s release, he explained that “Banjo” is about “getting away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life” by driving as far out into the backwoods as you can “until you go so far you start to hear a banjo.”
In theory, that makes for an enticing, musical journey. So why is it that “Banjo” is at its most intimate in the opening minute, and ends at its most obstreperous?
The first two verses bow with a notably banjo (!) driven arrangement, free of schmaltzy string arrangements and Huff’s signature 80′s-rawk sensibilities. Lead vocalist LeVox laments how the “B.S.” has gotten so thick in the concrete jungle that he has decided to rev up his four-wheel drive and make a run for the back roads. By the time the chorus kicks in, the trio suddenly regresses to a standard arena-rock chorus that sounds as though it was cloned from “Summer Nights”, with LeVox beseeching you must “kick it into four-wheel drive when you run out of road, and you go……..until you hear banjo.”
“Banjo” steadily ramps it up from there, where LeVox goes on to brag in the third verse that their “little place of heaven hidden” has not been tracked by the satellites or G.P.S. yet (I’m willing to bet the song’s three co-writers we can eventually track it on Google Maps.) Finally, by the time we reach the song’s coda, rather than being greeted with an intimate, back-patio banjo solo or perhaps a whiff of mountain music, the group finally regresses to its stereotypical stadium-rock histrionics, with the touch-ups of banjo deafended by high octane blasts of electric guitar testosterone as the group fist-pumps to battle cries of “Whoa oh oh!”.
If “Banjo” is any sort of musical statement, it is quite a contradictory one. By DeMarcus’s logic……….shouldn’t the song start off dominated by electric guitar, only to gradually veer closer to traditional instruments and sounds as it goes on? It certainly sounds to me like, the more closer the group drives home to the hinterland, the more noise and distraction there tends to be! Perhaps the B.S. is even thicker where the G.P.S. don’t sleep!
Then again, considering the arrangement, suppose we were to re-think “Banjo”. Perhaps, “Banjo”, if anything, is an existential crisis put to music. It concerns a troubled protagonist, who “can’t take a breath without gettin’ sick” in this wasteland of the 21st century, and is idealistically driven to try and find a relic that has been long believed to have faded into obscurity. The longer and longer he drives on, the more desperate he grows, yet his panglossian disposition encourages him to press on. Finally, by the coda, he has started to become unhinged by his migraine-induced desperation that he, emotionally, has “ran out of road” as he hears what sounds like the last banjo crying insolably as it is being usurped and broken apart by stratocasting poachers.
Whatever this single’s three writers were intending, it misfires as a musical statement of sorts. In spite of this, that contradiction doesn’t necessarily defeat the entire listening experience. I for one appreciate the renewed energy output here, especially following back-to-back ballads (and several album cycles dominated by schmaltzy ballads before that). Also noteworthy is the fact LeVox’s vocal performance here is not nearly as overdone as we have been accustomed to hearing of him overall. LeVox actually sounds like he’s enjoying the ride here, rather than belting as though it’s all life or death. He even sounds rapturously laid-back often, most notably during the verses.
If anything, the group would benefit from channeling this sort of renewed hunger a little more often (minus the last 35 seconds)……………..albeit steering clear of lyrical swamps in the vein of offenders like “Bob That Head” and opting for less of Huff’s trademark rawk bombast. “Banjo” may not offer anything new to the table, but it is certain to become a live setlist standout and I can see numerous listeners tuning this up while burning up calories on the treadmill. Who knows, perhaps live renditions of “Banjo” on their forthcoming tour may provide a refuge for various accomplished banjo players to exhibit their skills from city to city. I hope so, anyway.
If you dare not overthink “Banjo”, you’ll likely at least tolerate it in a way you haven’t been able to tolerate previous rockers from Rascal Flatts. If you are hankering for some clawhammering in its most intimate splendor, however………try not to breathe, and keep on drivin’. You ain’t even close.