This, to me, was one of the most anticipated albums. Having the Ghosts of the Future preview and then wondering what in the world he could do to improve the demos was something I was very anxious for.
That was my experience exactly. Also, Dial M
was the first album to come out during this forum's existence; hanging out in this community while waiting for the album only heightened my expectations. And the album did a darn good job living up to them.Minor Keys:
Okay, the demo version of this song was my favorite track from Ghosts
, and I darn near HATED this this album version the first time I heard it. The original had a swagger in the guitars that recalled the best moments from I Am the Portuguese Blues
; this just had acoustic guitars, and the hook (played by the keys this time) barely sounded like the original. The original drums were unmistakeably loud and stompy; this version's drums are harder to hear in the mix. The original's lead-in to the chorus (with the string sample) is a wonderfully drawn-out and dramatic moment; this version loses something by speeding up the lead-in, so it doesn't sound all that different from the rest of the song.
To be fair, I think this version's bridge is a vast improvement over the original. I especially like the synth-flute and how it keeps playing over the final chorus.
I've since grown to appreciate this version on its own merits, but I sort of have to think of it as a separate song. It fits the rest of the album very well; perhaps better than if Jason had just re-recorded the demo exactly as it was.
What is the reference to Jonny Marr about? Marr has been a member of many bands, most notably The Smiths. Jason is relating to him in some way,
The full lyric is "Like Johnny Marr I want my please please please." Jason's referencing the Smiths song "Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want" -- a song about someone who's led the kind of life "that can make a good man turn bad" and who just wishes things could go his way for once. That's the sort of person Jason's identifying with.
Really, the lyrics of this song are two-faced. In the verses, Jason is presenting a bold, self-confident, almost arrogant facade: he doesn't need to attend any stupid meetings; this is his calling in life; his music will carry on in spite of everything. The facade cracks when Jason admits that he may not be in his prime anymore. (I wonder if the line "For once, or maybe twice, I was in my prime" is deliberately referencing the fans who complain "It's all been downhill since Gold
..." or "It's all been downhill since The Fashion Focus
..." Because it seems to always be those two albums whenever that sentiment pops up.) And in the chorus, Jason's airing his self-doubt: trying to put his mind at ease by reminding himself he's using the same formulas as the musicians he admires; hoping that he can finally get what he wants.The Brightest of the Head:
I can respect Jason's reasons for changing this song's title, but I still think "God Forbid" was better. And changing the lyrics from "the brightest of the heads
" to "brightest of the head" makes no sense at all.
Musically, the main difference from the demo version is that the drums are much louder here, and it sounds like some hand claps are mixed in. Lyrically, pride is the one theme I can really grab onto in this song: every line in the chorus involves thinking himself better or more important than he really is, and the lead-in to the chorus is Jason asking God to banish these thoughts from his mind.Concentrate:
Hell yeah. Jason tweaked the synth hooks in this song just a little bit, and the results are about a million times better than the original demo. It just sounds so sinister. Also love that drum bit right at the end of the bridge.
Lyrically, this is an interesting counterpoint to "Brightest of the Head", because this time Jason has no illusions about being smarter than the rest. He compares an unidentified "you" with a kid who gets held back a grade; he reminds "you" that they make the same mistakes they patronize others for. And then in the chorus, the fact that Jason needs
to concentrate so badly almost suggests that Jason isn't any better than "you".Who Said It's Easy:
Another song that's a million times better than the demo. The first half is faster with lighter guitars and piano bouncing like a pulse; then the tempo drops to something slower than the original demo and the whole song suddenly sounds like the bridge from "First Heart Attack".
In the lyrics, Jason seems to be calling out some of his critics. "So am I fragile about my vision? I never asked for you opinion." Because it's far, far easier to criticize a performer from the audience than it is to get up on stage and perform.M23:
What's with the title? M[artin at age] 23?
Compared to the original, the bass is simultaneously simplified and much more prominent, and the keys are absent from the verses. The accordion-esqe synth bit at the end is definitely new. As good as this version is, I prefer the original.
The first two verses are definitely about the idea that Jason's music will serve as his memorial. Then in the final verse, Jason remembers how often listeners just hear what they want to hear from music ("You made it up, you made it up, you made it up, you make it up") and realizes this is not the sort of memorial he wants. So instead, he'll rely on Christ.Taxi:
I liked the bridge's synth solo better in the demo version than here. The rest of the song is an improvement from the demo. Really not sure what to make of the lyrics beyond what Adam said.Automatic:
This entire song strikes me as Jason mocking certain of his critics. I know I've read reviews that accused Jason's songwriting of sounding too same-y on recent albums. So here, Jason sarcastically admits that the critics are right: He's song-writing on autopilot, cranking out an endless, monotonous supply of extruded song products; like Willy Loman from Death of a Salesman
he's going to keep repeating a failing process until it kills him. To complete the satire, Jason sets these lyrics to a bass hook and a string sample, looped endlessly. You can almost hear Jason saying "You think my songs were monotonous? I'll show you monotony!" The fact that the resulting song sounds like nothing else
in Starflyer's discography serves to underscore how off-base the original criticism was.Altercation:
All I can get from the lyrics, Adam's already said. Musically, I wish the guitar lead from the bridge and outro could have been repeated a bit more (like it was in the original version), but I really liked the harmonizing guitars in the second verse of this version, so I can't say either was really better.Mr. Martin:
I wonder where Jason got those birdsong recordings.
Does anyone else think the cello and strings in the chorus of this version are a nod to the "plugged" demo? They seem to follow the melody of that high-pitched synth from the plugged version, rather than any instrument from the acoustic demo.
Remember that one time Horton trolled the VBM message board by interpreting these lyrics to be about "all unemployed people are really too lazy to get jobs", and demanding that Jason apologize and rewrite the song? Good times.I Love You Like the Little Bird:
This and "Mr. Martin" are pretty much inseparable. "Mr. Martin" is the darkest hour, the moment of deepest despair; this song is the resolution to push through anyway. Jason knows his family is depending on him, so he's not going to give up.
Musically, I have to say the new version was a complete surprise. Those surf-ish guitar hooks all but bury the rhythm guitar and turn this into a very different song from the demo.Majic:
I assume everyone here knows who John is?
Amusing trivia: I asked Jason which spelling ("Majic" or "Magic") was the intended one, and Jason couldn't remember.
Is that a banjo playing in the chorus?In conclusion:
Lyrically, it's yet another album angsting about not succeeding as a musician, yet Jason still makes this theme interesting. Musically, even though I look at a bunch of little details and say that I liked it better on the Ghosts of the Future
demo, when taken as a whole the songs hang together so well that I have to consider this one of Sf59's best. Maybe even THE best.