184 – Never Get You Right

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Artist – Brandon Flowers
Album – The Desired Effect
Year – 2015
Genre – Synthpop/Alt. Rock

What is life? OK before all of you decide to instantly close the window or head to YouTube, hear me out. In your life, when you look at it, do you think it’s been guided by fate? Free will? Perhaps a mix of both? I personally think it’s the latter. We can’t choose our gender, sexuality, race, our family, or what circumstances we’re born in. Yet every day we labor over every little decision. We obsess over things we could have done differently, and how maybe things would have worked out if we’d changed one little thing or taken a different path or said something else. “Well maybe he/she’d still like me if I’d done this or that at this or that time.” “Ugh, why does it seem like my life is always going wrong?” “I wish I was someone different.” These are the thoughts that stress out so many of us and often emotionally cripple us every day. They prevent us from living how we often want to live, and I fall guilty to this as well. But after listening to Brandon Flowers’ “Never Get You Right,” I really drew an encouraging and powerful message from it. Hopefully one that inspires us all, and it starts with the first line.

It’s a coin toss. It’s a game on.

At first, I didn’t understand this line. I thought it was just an interesting game metaphor to start the song. Then I saw the beauty of what Flowers is trying to say. This is life. It’s fate and free will. There are many things in our life we can’t change, affect, or decide. It’s a coin toss. It’s already been determined. We have to realize that a lot of parts of life are like a coin toss. We don’t choose a lot of things, but there’s always another side. The second half of the line is the rest of life. It’s a game on. This is how we as humans CHOOSE to live.  It’s free will. We take what cards we’ve been dealt and we say “GAME ON!” We choose to move beyond our crippling fears and worries and choose to approach every day and say, “bring it on, I’m ready to live and be who I am, because being my honest self is something I can choose to do every day.” That’s the best we can do, but it is literally the best thing we CAN do. It’s being yourself and living in the here and now that matters most. Phew, and that’s just the first line!

The rest of the lyrics in the song use a ballad as a lens for this idea of the duality of the way our lives unfold and the people we become.

You were born lost, and dirt blonde
No curfew, with a drunk mom
No one to stop you now

And I’ll give you my opinion, it’s the only one I’ve got
They’ll turn you into something, whether you are it or not

The beginning speaks to the circumstances we can’t change in our lives, but by the time the prechorus hits, it’s all about if you choose to be how you see yourself or how others see you.

But they’ll never get you right

Only you know who you are. Be that person, always. Don’t let others change you.

There’s another line that I love before the second chorus that really speaks to this fact that we really obsess over things we can’t control and labor over wishing we’d done things differently:

Through a microscope lens, dissecting your whole life

And finally, the bridge of the song shows how while we worry our lives away and spend our time putting on false pretenses and struggle with our own inner personality and honesty, things will still happen and things in our lives will still change. Our lives will pass us by as we’re stuck in neutral:

Everybody talks from the wrong side of the mask
Gliding through the universe as the world goes rolling past
But don’t give in to the pressure ’cause it isn’t gonna stop
The world goes on around you whether you like it or not

This is honestly a song with one of the most important messages I’ve heard in a long time. Brandon Flowers absolutely nailed it on this one, but the lyrics, as good as they are, are still just one half of the equation!

The music and melody in this song are just gorgeous. From the start Flowers’ honest and emotionally compromised voice wavers from note to note, adding that sense of humanity. It’s soft and gentle, and the gorgeous, classic 80’s synth and piano line come courtesy of the legendary Bruce Hornsby, who is a guest on this track. The percussion and hand claps are also straight out of the classic 80’s balladeers songbook, but this is done to great effect. The chorus is triumphant, and is mirrored by the melancholic and reflective verses. It’s sweeping and romantic and Flowers carries this track on every note. He soars and falls with each line. After years of crafting records with The Killers and on his own, he’s figured out quite a lot, and you can tell these songs mean a lot to him.

Flowers’ message, in the end, is simple. Just get out there and live! Don’t be afraid to be who you are and tackle every day as your best self just because some unfortunate things have happened or are happening in your life. It’s true there are things we cannot choose, but we can choose who we present ourselves as to the world. Who would that be? A kind stranger? A lover? An adventurer? A poet? A friend? An enemy? These are the things we can choose, and it’s the most important thing that we actually can change in the world. So instead of worrying about events that have already happened or haven’t happened yet, we can all focus on being our honest selves and living our lives fully in each moment of every day. To be cliche and throw out an old quote to end this post:

“Whatever you are, be a good one”

Let me know what you all think of the song in the comments? Do you believe in fate or free will?

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The Art of Confidence – Terrible Thrills, Vol 2.

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When I finally took the time to discover Bleachers (fun. guitarist Jack Antonoff’s side project) I was greeted with honesty. His album Strange Desire was a record that was laser focused on capturing gradiose romantic emotion through well crafted pop melodies and lush soundscapes. Despite that previous sentence of mine, Antonoff came across as genuine and unpretentious. His voice is low and echoes from wall to wall, but it’s straightforward. He was confident and you can tell that he was engrossed in every moment in the production of the record. Of course, there were a few songs I didn’t care for, but I thought the record was very good regardless. It had some of the best hooks I’d heard from a semi-mainstream band. That’s a testament to Antonoff’s songwriting ability and his experience in the pop world. He knows what we like to hear, and I respect his ability to translate that and add those sounds to his own personal experiences and lyrics.
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After all this, I couldn’t help but wonder what some of these great songs would sound like in a higher register. I thought about the different dimensions the song would take, and if the emotions would change at all. Would the emotions that rose up in me while listening change? Would a female voice change the perspective of the song? Well imagine my surprise when Antonoff surprised many people by re-releasing his Strange Desire record with the songs redone and with different female artists singing each song. I couldn’t help but think Jack (whom I’ve interviewed before and can say is a very kind guy indeed) was listening to my ideas. After reading about why the decision was made, it turns out that Antonoff, according to him, hears his songs in a female voice first and then sings them an octave down out of necessity. I think that’s an interesting way to approach songwriting to be sure, and a lot of the artists I saw that were guests on this album: Sia, Elle King, Sara Bareilles, and Charli XCX among others excited me. I couldn’t help but applaud Jack Antonoff for being as confident as he is in his material. This is a guy who knows his songs have a potency to them as they were, but he’s willing to let that go and try and recapture what he had done all over again. That takes guts. But how does it stack up to the original?

Well, I will say this. The songs vary greatly, which is refreshing for me. He didn’t simply rehash the sounds of each track. But some were more successful than others. The thing is, all of these guest artists are still bound to Antonoff’s melodies and construction. So bearing that in mind, I wanted to give the tracks that resonated with me (again) a quick review. But if you’re looking for an answer as to whether you should listen at all, my answer is a resounding YES. The album’s lyrics and melodies still remain potent and resonant, and the change in vocal tone from song to song will surprise you in the best way possible. So let’s take a closer look:

Track 1 – Wild Heart (teat. Sarah Bareilles)

Sarah Bareilles has a very soothing and earnest tone, almost comparable to Antonoff himself. Instead of the pulsing, urgent tone of the music in the original, this one comes across as even more romantic, as it’s a lot more subdued and gentle. The textures are still lush, although I will say Antonoff went a little overboard on the samples on this one. I could’ve done without them at times, but if you listen to this version after the original, the two work perfectly in tandem as if they were sung by two members a couple deeply in love. It’s a soothing caress to the original’s fiery passion.

Track 2 – Rollercoaster (feat. Charli XCX)

This is one of the songs where the music wasn’t tampered with too much. Which to me is perfectly fine. The glittering neon vibe of the synth in this song was one of it’s greatest strength to begin with. Charli XCX has a very distinctive voice that to me always sounded like a cross between a rebel and seductress. To me, that adds up to someone who knows how to live and take chances, which is exactly the spirit of this song. Perfect choice. Her voice in the verses fits perfectly, but what makes this song so good is the power of the chorus. The original had Jack’s voice overlaid a few times, which gave it oomph and a gang-vocal quality. That was actually removed for this version, which I feel was not a good decision. I wanted the same gang vocal sound Charli had on “Boom Clap” but she sings straight through on this one. It’s still a fun energetic track, but that one (in my opinion) misstep took a bit away from it.

Track 3 – Shadow (feat. Carly Rae Jepsen)

This was the last song on the original that I decided I liked. However, from the beginning of this version, with its beefy and rich synth bass line, I was hooked. The stuttering guitar line from the original remains, and Jepsen takes great advantage. She makes this song her own, as if it were on her last record. It fits perfectly too. It flows perfectly right until the chorus, which like the previous song, is big and powerful on the original. However, on this one, the tempo drops out and we get a quiet synth backing and a stuttering bass kick underneath Jepsen’s voice. I was surprised by this change, but pleasantly so. I like this change a lot, as it has a similar effect that Bareilles’ “Wild Heart” had. It adds this sensitivity and almost fun loving kindness to the tone of the song. Jepsen’s voice has that quality to it, so hearing her be the focus instead of being drowned out put a smile on my face. Not to mention that synth from the beginning is infinitely better sounding than the tones of the original.

Track 4 – I Wanna Get Better (feat. Tinashe)

Wow, what a 180! This is not the pulse pounding neurotic shout along song that we all knew. This version an introspective, emotional cry for love and self improvement. Perhaps that’s what Jack had in mind with the original, but I don’t think that vibe was fully captured until now. Tinashe (the girl from The Polar Express!!) is excellent at controlling her voice and making these lyrics become even more powerful moment to moment. The quiet, muted chorus gave me goosebumps. But there are few vocal effects I wasn’t a fan of, but overall this song goes from crazy and unpredictable to sad and harrowing. The beat is still there, but the vocals and musical changes shift the tone completely. Bravo.

Track 6 – Reckless Love (feat. Elle King)

Honestly, this was the one I was the most nervous about. The original is so potent and brave a song coming from Antonoff and his voice that I wasn’t sure how Elle King, who has one of the most distinctive voices and sounds in pop music today, was going to tackle it. I’m glad to say that this was one of my favorites on the entire record. Her voice in the verses is tender and beautiful. It’s almost like if you took the best of an old time folk ballad and added synths over the top. It’s old meets new, and I’m thrilled that they kept the absolutely gorgeous synth line that comes right after the first two verses. It’s at this point, that King takes the shy, fragile tone of Antonoff and makes it powerful and confident. Her yells say, “I’m taking charge of my life. I don’t need to bend to the will of anyone who doesn’t return the love I’ve given.”  I’m so glad both versions maintain distinct personalities, but this one is quickly becoming my favorite of the two.

Track 7 – Take Me Away (feat. Brooke Candy and Rachel Antonoff)

Ironically, this song already had a female vocalist, with Grimes doing a great job in the original version. The original came across as a gentle resolution to an argument from both sides, but this one, which features Jack’s sister on clean vocals, and also raps from Brooke Candy, is a classic Yin Yang song. The music isn’t changed really, but the angry and snide raps are followed by a wonderful and simple vocal by Rachel Antonoff. “I know you’re sorry” remains one of the shortest, but most powerful lines on the record, and I’m glad the vocal integrity of that line was kept intact from Grimes to Rachel. I think Antonoff was more successful with the original because it gave this image of a couple crying and making up and embracing after a bad fight. Both sides had surrendered to the moment. But this one sounds like a one sided affair, which can be just as true, but a harder pill for romantics like me to swallow.

Track 8 – Like A River Runs (feat. Sia)

I wanted to share this one because I actually don’t care for it. But I have a feeling many others out there will adore it. I personally liked the epic, anthemic sounds of the original, and though I admire Jack and Sia for taking a chance with turning this into a piano ballad, I don’t think it was as successful in it’s message. Sia still has an absolutely incredible voice, so massive props to her, but she plays with the melody at times where it doesn’t it need to be touched. I miss the pounding drums and huge sounding synth. The gentle nature of the piano in this one seems to clash with Sia’s massive voice and her soaring notes. But I don’t know, maybe I’m just not sold on it yet. Let me know what you all think of this one.

Track 9 – You’re Still a Mystery (feat. MO)

I love every minute of this. This song was my favorite of Strange Desire, and it’s my favorite still. It’s an ebullient celebration of love and every little moment you experience with someone else while you’re in love. A song of this caliber can’t be topped, I thought. I thought wrong. MO absolutely owns this song. Her raspy cuts like a knife through the song and it’s powerful and beautiful. Jack probably took note of this, and make the snare drums in this song even louder and sharp. It’s songs like this that make me want to dance around and just lose myself. And that’s the point. They even added a Bruce Springsteen style saxophone solo that Bleachers likes to add to live performances of this song. MO brings a youthful exuberance and joyful energy that can’t be controlled. That’s how you feel when you’re in love. You want to tell the world. She’s telling the world, and she doesn’t care what people think.

Well guys, those are all the songs that I thought I should talk about, but please check out the entire album as it’s truly a testament to great songwriting and a show of confidence from an artist who has captured something great. Until next time, please let me know what you guys think of the album in the comments!