"Put A Penny In the Slot" / Fionn Regan
When I'm sent an album to review, I get nervous -- I really don't want to hate it, I don't want to write a negative review. And nobody's sending me big-name CDs to review, they're sending me debut efforts by unknown artists, hoping to get a little press for their fledgling talent. The chances are fairly good that those CDs are gonna suck.
But every once in awhile I strike gold -- like with Fionn Regan. I recently posted a rave review of this Irish singer-songwriter's debut CD, End of the World, on blogcritics.org, and I can promise you, every word of it was sincere. This guy sounds great, and his songs really stick in my mind, long after I've stopped listening to the records for review purposes.
Sure, he's quirky -- but quirky is what I like. His music is a little bit folk, a little bit alt-rock, even a little bit jazz; given the lightning-fast picking of his acoustic guitar work, you could almost say it's a little bit bluegrass as well. His lyrics are wonderful, a loquacious flood of imagery and cryptic references that peg him as yet another acolyte of professors John Lennon and Bob Dylan, only blessedly free of all the snideness and politics.
"Put A Penny In the Slot" isn't exactly typical of Regan's work -- he's got too much breadth to have anything "typical" yet -- but it's certainly a sharp little tour de force. That title image calls to mind an old nickelodeon in a penny arcade, where you could peer through a brass viewer to watch herky-jerky silent shorts. That's as good a parallel as anything else to the absurd existence he describes, peppered with references to Hennessey cognac, FedEx, Saul Bellow, Paul Auster, Rhodesian ridgebacks, Beckenham Park, high-rise blocks, furniture shops, church candles, charoplanes, stinging nettles, and the rock pools of the County Wicklow coast. It's like a page out of James Joyce, the way he rattles through these disconnected events, adrift in a senseless modern world.
Though it's a delicate, folky sort of talking ballad, this song moves at a swift clip over nimble acoustic guitar playing. As his beguiling lazy tenor bops along, we piece together a sort of story, about a girlfriend who "will not let you be her lover" -- dashing off to find a taxi, not answering her phone -- and the way she's jerking him around has left him dizzy. "Put a penny in the light and make an artificial li-ii-ight shine" he warbles from time to time, "Leave go / My golden arm"; he knows he's a sap for her demands, but she pushes every button he's got, and he's hooked. (The Man With the Golden Arm, wasn't that the old Sinatra movie about a drug addict?) "Put a penny in the slot and watch the drunken sailor dance...Put a penny in the slot and count the swans through a te-eh-lescope / I can't help from crying / I wish you were mine." Forget that skipping tempo, the chipper croak of Regan's breathy vocal -- this song is so plangent, it just kills me.
Check the kid out. I think you'll like.
Put a Penny In the Slot video