Wednesday, February 04, 2009

The Perfect Rock Ballad

And now for something completely different... I wrote this back in September 2003, but wanted to post it (with a little editing) for some friends to read. It regards a song from Spock's Beard's "Feel Euphoria" release from that summer.


Rick's Top Ten Reasons Why "Shining Star" is the Perfect Rock Ballad

First off, I'm generally not a big fan of rock ballads. I think the form was generally perfected by Justin Hayward's and John Lodge's laments of unrequited love in the mid 70's and has generally been beat to an undignified death in the intervening years. However, that doesn't mean that there aren't numerous good examples still being produced, usually in non-obvious places.

Here's my list of 10 reasons why this is, in my opinion the perfect rock love song, in no particular order.

1. Nick's vocals are clean, clear and emotive. He doesn't have that raspy, limited range singing that plagues most rock balladeers, nor does he beat us senseless with brutal and shrill vocal gymnastics like Whitney Houston or Mariah Carey, etc. He just sings the song, does it well, and does a superb job of displaying the affection he feels for Tiffany.

2. This is no wimpy song even if it is mellow. It is definitely crankable, thanks to excellent production, Nick's tasty, groovy, understated drums, Al's great guitar, and especially Dave's smoov, sexy bass playing. The song has real mass behind it. Plus, it would be great to dance to.

3. Tambourine. 'Nuff said.

4. The refrain takes a different direction. Just like "Carie", the song takes a few unpredictable turns, which keep it from being a just a boring, old MoR radio staple, but a really cool piece of music. The ending is even better because being rather abrupt it leaves you wanting just a bit more.

5. The lyrics. First we know it's a real song about real people, which is a big plus, because we have all heard Tiffany talk about Nick and see that they seem to have that story book romance. The tactile references in the beginning are very evocative ("wind flows over me", "blood rush to my skin") and contrast neatly with the spiritual overtones ("You're there to open a door", "Shine your light on me" "the love that lights my way") highlighting the emotional/intellectual aspect with the physical/sensual aspect of deep, abiding romantic love. Very powerful, when you really start to think about it.

6. Like any good love song, there is an element of longing... we know the particulars: Nick is on the road for weeks at a time, and that absence is a hardship even as it paradoxically contributes to the strength of a relationship.

7. How could I not mention Al's guitar... dreamy, expressive yet subtle, the solo is short, sweet, and perfect for the moment. The steel guitar-style sound in the beginning complements the fretless bass in an awesome way to create a warm, fuzzy safe feeling that perfectly echoes the mood of the words... and the little volume-control bits remind me of another perfect rock ballad "Walking on Air" from King Crimson's "Thrak", a song that has a lot of similar elements.

8. The first few notes at the beginning of the song, when the guitar kicks in, reminds me very strongly of the beginning of the old Tempations' classic "My Girl". I don't know if that's on purpose, an accident or a product of my weird brain wiring, but it's cool nonetheless.

9. This was originally a personal reference to one of the members of the mailing list that would be utterly out of context and pointless here. Instead I will add the Ryo's very understated keyboards, especially his organ playing, don't stand out and grab you, but the song would be much diminished if they weren't there. This is the mark of a good artist and a superb ensemble performance.

10. The production, like that of all of Spock's Beard music, is excellent. The beginning is very clean and simple, but the refrain is lush, without sounding mushy or muffled. Just perfect. Rich Mouser's work should be required studying for anyone in the music production business, many of whom seem to have completely forgotten how to make a record sound good.

Along with "Walking On Air" and a list of other songs I will perhaps one day compile, this is something I would have liked to have been able to play at my wedding.

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