“These Days” / Ron Sexsmith
Yahoo!! Ron Sexsmith is going to be opening for Nick Lowe on several tour dates this fall – that’s about as good a two-for-one deal as it gets. As if I needed anything more to get psyched for seeing Nick!!
The Nick/Ron combo is a natural – both Lowe and his pal Elvis Costello are on record as Ron Sexsmith admirers – but my first taste of Ron Sexsmith was his cover of “This Is Where I Belong,” one of my favorite Kinks covers ever. Recommended by Nick, Elvis, AND Ray – that’s hitting my personal trifecta. And every Sexsmith album I’ve listened to completely lives up to its billing.
So I was already thinking about Ron Sexsmith, when the movie I was watching tonight – a 2004 Irish film called Intermission – suddenly broke into one of my favorite Sexsmith tunes, “These Days.” I knew it from the first heavy rhythmic drumbeats, and those gospel-like back-up doo-de-doos (which always remind me of “Walk On The Wild Side”); Ron’s voice is instantly recognizable, that choirboy tenor with its soulful vibrato. Given the thick Irish accents, I wasn't one-hundred percent following the movie, but when the song came on, every character was mired in romantic discouragement. What better time to hit the audience with a dose of Ron Sexsmith’s rueful charm?
“Promises are made to be broken / Haven't you heard?” he announces casually, addressing a woman he’s trying to win (or win back – it’s not clear). “He said he'd never break your heart / Now haven't you learned?" But he 's not scolding her, just sympathizing. "Oh, but love is not some popular song / Filled with empty sentiment,” he advises her. (Pretty gutsy, eh, to dismiss pop-song sentiment when you’re writing a pop song.) You can almost hear him shaking his head as he sings the chorus: “That's what passes for love / That's what passes for love / These days.” That midtempo syncopation, the easy lilting melody, make his argument seems so mellow -- well, that girl just has to listen.
It's a set-up, of course. He begins to pitch his own woo in the next verse: “It won't take a miracle, darlin' / Just keep it real.” He gives her an understanding shoulder to cry on – “I know how it feels / You took it to heart / What they said on the screen” -- then offers her an alternative: “No one can complete you or make you whole / But love will come to greet you halfway / Though the streets are never paved with gold.” And if she's got any sense, she's already relocating her affections.
Realistic advice about romance, sure, but it's anything but a downer. Sexsmith’s voice skips so warmly and affectionately from note to note, you just know things will turn out all right. He’s not blaming this woman, or pressuring her to go with him instead. He’s just going to slip his arm around her shoulder and be extremely sympathetic. And if that leads to something else…