Five Random Songs (Episode One)

This past Saturday night, I was doing what any able-bodied 23-year-old single male would do: preparing to call a football game the next day while talking to friends on Facebook chat.  This turned out to be a great idea, mainly thanks to some highly inebriated friends on Facebook who comically misspelled words left and right.  It also turned out to inspire a new blog series, thanks to an unintentionally friendly suggestion.

Chris Mercaldo, a good friend of mine, is joining a band.  (I hope this is not supposed to be private information, but if it is, I hope none of my 17 readers post it on Facebook.)  Proving that this blog has entered the cultural zeitgeist of our era, Chris asked if I would review five songs for him – five songs he had personally chosen to play as the drummer in his new band, The Mercaldo Raines.  (Not actual name.)

If you understood the reference before this picture, 1,000 points to you.

If you understood the reference before this picture, 1,000 points to you.

Young Mr. Mercaldo meant this as a goofy, conversational suggestion.  I, of course, took it as a dead-serious new idea for a blog segment, and here we are!  Welcome to the debut edition of Five Random Songs, in which a) someone sends me five random songs to review or b) I hit shuffle on my iTunes.  Anyway, let’s get to it…

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1. Bruce Springsteen – “The Rising”

Friends of mine – and likely, readers of this blog – are well-aware of my love for all things Bruce.  Since the September Springsteen show I attended at The Stadium Replacing The One Formerly Known As Giants Stadium, I’ve become a Springsteen devotee of the highest order.  So it should come as no surprise that I absolutely love “The Rising”, the title track off Springsteen’s terrific post-9/11 album.  It’s one of The Boss’ best tunes ever and the best single he’s released post-Born In The U.S.A.

“The Rising” is both lyrically and musically inspiring.  It covers heavy musical ground, telling the story of a New York City firefighter climbing one of the Twin Towers on September 11th, while alternating between uplifting and reflective moods.  The breakdown, in particular, which covers a meeting with a woman named Mary (draw your own conclusions), evokes vivid visions of a sky (of “blackness and sorrow, sky of love, sky of tears..”) and gives away to a stirring chorus of “li, li, li” vocals, is extraordinary.  It’s one of the unquestioned highlights of not only Springsteen’s career, but of the past decade in music.

Grade: A+

2. Death Cab for Cutie – “Soul Meets Body”

I never liked Death Cab for Cutie in high school, and I never listened to them in college – but that may have been a hastily assembled feeling.  Recently, I checked out the group’s 2008 album, Narrow Stairs…and to my surprise, thoroughly enjoyed it.  In fact, Narrow Stairs was good enough on one listen to erase most of the doubts I had about the group back in the good old days of 2006.

Further proving that I didn’t know what the hell I was doing in high school, “Soul Meets Body” is quite good. Lead vocalist Ben Gibbard croons through a haunting tune, backed by strong lyrics and a softly beautiful guitar line.  “And I cannot guess what he discover”, he sings, “when we turn the dirt with our palms cupped like shovels.”  This one stuck with me after an initial listen, and again, I ask myself – why didn’t I like these guys?

Grade: A-

3. Taking Back Sunday – “One-Eighty By Summer”

Now, here’s the other end of the high school spectrum.  I loved the heck out of Taking Back Sunday in high school, seeing them live twice and often blasting their first three albums.  While my musical sensibilities have evolved a bit, I’m never one to turn down a good TBS jam.  And “One-Eighty By Summer”, a track from 2004’s Where You Want To Be, is a strong choice for jammin’.

There are two major hook-y moments in “One-Eighty By Summer” – the opening guitar riff and repeated lyric “go on, just say it, you need me like a bad habit” and the outgoing cries of “why can’t you live without the attention?”  The Adam Lazzara/Fred Mascherino dynamic is in full force here, and the tune works as a fresh slice of TBS’ power-pop past.  I don’t need to be playing this sort of thing on repeat anymore, but it’s one of the highlights of a solid album.

Grade: B+

4. Dave Matthews Band – “American Baby”

Even though I went to high school and college, I’m generally bored by Dave Matthews Band.  The dreary, plodding melodies don’t do much for me, and I just don’t care enough to explore the band’s discography past the obvious.  Also, there aren’t any red Solo cups in my house at the moment.

That being said, there are about five DMB songs I enjoy, and Chris has selected one of them.  I dig the plucky guitar in the background of “American Baby” and the general melody of the song.  It’s still a little slow, and it could be chopped down by 15 to 30 seconds, but “American Baby” is a catchy enough tune to stay in my ear without passing right through.  I won’t put it on my iPod any time soon, but I wouldn’t skip it if it showed up, either.

Grade: B-

5. The Killers – “Mr. Brightside”

Let’s bookend the list with songs that probably belong on “Best of the 2000s” lists, shall we?  “Mr. Brightside” is so well-known, so thrillingly enjoyable and so gloriously catchy that just one second of its opening guitar line is enough to elicit an “oh!” and a smile from anyone around.  Eight years after the band’s debut album, Hot Fuss, captured all of our eyes and ears, this song still sounds fresh.  Spoiler alert: it will never stop.  “Mr. Brightside” permeates your senses with gorgeous guitars, intense drums and gorgeous vocals.  Whether you love or hate Brandon Flowers, you have to admit one thing – this is a phenomenal song.  If you don’t like this tune, you’re a cold-hearted person indeed.

Grade: A+

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That’s all for today.  Big-time thanks to Chris for inspiring this post – and once his band releases an album we’ll be sure to review that.

Got five random songs you want me to review, just for the heck of it?  Send ’em along to kevinnoble.brown@gmail.com and I’ll take ’em for a spin.

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