"Flying Into London" /
Graham Parker and the Rumour
Selfish thing that I am, I've been hoarding to myself this incredible new album Mystery Glue. I should have written about it weeks ago, I know. But then, one thing I've learned about being a Graham Parker fan: Give the songs time to marinate and you'll discover they're even better than you thought at first listen.
I did try, honest. I have half-written posts on so many songs from this rich album -- "Pub Crawl," "I've Done Bad Things," "Fast Crowd," the deliciously self-deprecating "My Life In Movieland," the deft media satire "Slow News Day" (which, I read in an interview, Graham identifies as his "Ray Davies song, more like the Kinks than the Beatles" -- oh, yes.)
And then I went to see Graham and the Rumour last Friday night at the Tarrytown Music Hall and I had to go back to square one. Seeing GP on stage reunited with his original backing band kicks the whole thing up a notch. As good as Parker's solo stuff has been (and seriously, I'll fight anyone who claims there's a better album than Struck By Lightning), watching him being re-energized by his old bandmates is such a thrill. They were fantastic on their first reunion album, Three Chords Good, but lordy, lordy, lordy -- they are totally swinging in that groove now.
And, as I was dancing in the side aisle with my international band of GP peeps (because, yes, I AM that kind of fangirl), this was the song that completely bowled me over.
So what was it that so struck me last week about this song? I suddenly realized that Graham, who has for years been such an insightful outsider-observer of the American cultural scene, has now had to confront returning to his homeland, England, with all the baggage that entails. Yes, it's where he's from, and where several (not all) of his reconnected bandmates still live. But that doesn't mean going home is simple.
Those opening riffs, both the guitar and the organ lines, sound almost defiantly country & western to me, and the whole song has a relaxed, soul-infused swing that is anything but BritPop. "Flying Into London" isn't exactly a talking blues song, but it does pack in the lyrics (echoes of Dylan?), as if nattering away will help keep his anxiety at bay.
There's a wariness to this song -- "It's just one long back road in my soul tonight" -- he knows that he's not returning to the same place he left (""I might as well be landing on Mars"). He can even feel it physically -- "My mind gets loose and my heart gets tight." GP is a master of the cleverly inverted cliché, but this one seems especially apt -- I know just what that feels like, don't you?
There's no faked-up drama here -- not with that strolling tempo and major key -- it's just life, throwing another curve ball. You get the sense that, like a cat, he'll land on his feet, but he's registering every nuance in the meantime. In verse two, he underlines this: "This internal geography just drives the stress / And you don't get a road map or a GPS" -- that's homecomings for you. Anybody gone to a college reunion lately? I have, and this song nails it.
In true poetic fashion (because I do believe that this man is a poet worthy of taking his place alongside Keats and Shelley), he works all the metaphors, the turbulence and the clouds and "the warning lights were on all this time." There's an element of regret as well, for the beloved left behind "cleaning up my mess" and "I didn't see the tears baby, pooling in your eye." Because every homecoming is also a leave-taking.
And that's where Graham, bless him, leaves us -- struggling with the emotions of connection, here, there, and everywhere. "Yeah I've left it, left it all behind," he claims, but we know it's not that easy. And here are his old pals, singing (very far forward in the mix) a cheery "Whoa-oh-oh whoa-oh-oh [beat beat, chord change] whoa oh-oh-oh." How much do I love those up-front-and-personal Rumour backing vocals? In my humble opinion they are the soul of this extraordinary album. Where the genius Graham Parker happily lets his bandmates stand and deliver.
Is there a better singer/songwriter working today? I seriously doubt it. But where you're this good, why not let your supremely talented bandmates have a piece of the action?
I have to say, I love this whole band. I adore Brinsley Schwarz's and Martin Belmont's inventive guitar riffs, Andrew Bodnar's snaky bass lines, Steve Goulding's funky drum tracks, Bob Andrew's soulful roadhouse groove on the keyboards. It all works so gloriously together. But then it all comes back to Graham Parker. Who wrote the songs. Who sings the songs.
And the man is a freaking genius, so . . . I don't know. Once I sign onto an artist who truly moves me, I'm in for life. And this guy? I am so in his camp.