Review Summary: Our Lady Peace frontman delivers brave and often brilliant spoken word debut
If Our Lady Peace are today best known for their expressive but relatively safe brand of U2-inspired stadium rock, listeners would do well to remember that during the ‘90s the Canadian four-piece were one of the few successful rock bands to justify the prefix “alternative” while maintaining a steady popular audience. The decade saw Our Lady Peace produce three unique and sonically progressive albums, their eclectic sound due in no small part to the unusually prominent role played by drummer Jeremy Taggart, as well as the interplay between increasingly noise-based guitarist Mike Turner and the shrieking, pitch-defying vocals of frontman Raine Maida. While changes in personnel have since affected the group’s essential dynamic, the band and Maida in particular have always striven to do things a little bit differently.
Quiet and unassuming, though frequently outspoken, Maida cuts a distinctive figure in any capacity. His latest release also happens to be his first as a solo artist. Realising long-harboured ambitions to create music outside the confines of the traditional rock group, his debut EP
isn’t exactly innovative in its individual parts, but taken as a whole it’s an interesting update on the traditionally push/pull relationship between speech and song. Reinventing himself as a modern-day bard, Sage Francis meets the bohemian poet, Maida takes primary influence from the growing slam poetry scene, as exemplified by the likes of Saul Williams, Buddy Wakefield and Francis as much as he draws from the likes of Cohen, Dylan and Ginsberg who’ve inspired him countless times in the past.
The make-up of the four songs is simple enough. As a vocalist, Raine is more vulnerable and exposed than ever before. There are no crunchy guitars, no layered harmonies, no vocal ticks or acrobatics to mask the essential power of the words and the melody- the two elements Maida takes pains to emphasise- and the gamble definitely pays off. The instrumentation is sparse throughout; generally, the songs begin with a spoken passage supplemented by light piano or guitar and flower with additional percussion, acoustic instruments and eventually a sung chorus, though Raine remains restrained vocally, never losing focus upon the two central elements.
Lyrically, an air of vulnerability and occasional helplessness runs through the entire collection, though the one key constant is the importance Maida plays on individual action and following one’s heart, a message which manifests itself in a variety of scenarios. Through ‘One Second Chance,’ he decries the lack of political action in modern society, stating, “I saw Abbie Hoffman’s ghost in the distance. We’ve got Saul Williams keeping up the resistance”
, while he holds the likes of South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone above today’s legislators for preaching common sense when “our politicians don’t have a position.”
Though the quality of the tracks remains relatively constant throughout, ‘One Second Chance’ is the closest there is to a standout number due to the subtle trade-off between spoken word and sung vocals and carefully understated violin and cello sections.
Using a similar narrative style, ‘Earthless’ has a strong and positive implied message, telling the story of a young girl who, though talented and resourceful, is unsure of and feels intimidated by expectations and life in general, “struggling for purpose.”
He urges her to persevere, adding “she’s courageous but scared to death- but that’s what courage means.”
The instrumentation is barer than anywhere else on the CD, however it’s beautifully orchestrated, with barely audible female vocals appropriately creeping in to the mix in the final seconds. ‘Careful What You Wish For’ calls to mind Dresden Dolls, driven by a lone piano and half-sung vocals before the addition of drums and a louder, more percussive style of play create a sort of battle between the singer and the piano to be the voice that is heard, and this is reflected in Maida’s ever more anxious delivery.
The lead track on the EP, from which the title is derived, ‘Sex Love and Honey,’ calls to mind Rufus Wainwright via haunting chorale vocals, while the simple acoustic guitar accompaniment is reminiscent of Radiohead’s ‘Paranoid Android,’ though the overall tone is consistent with the quieter tracks (including single ‘Angels/Losing/Sleep’) from Our Lady Peace’s most recent effort Healthy In Paranoid Times
. In contrast to the other three tracks, and unusually for a single, the lyrics are starkly pessimistic with curt one-liners such as “there’s nothing left to say,” “I’ve got one foot in this grave”
and most powerful of all, “one solution is you don’t ever let yourself care,”
promising little and delivering no relief from the impending loss of a loved one.
Love Hope Hero
is in many senses the logical conclusion of the musical direction Our Lady Peace have taken since 2000’s Spiritual Machines
and is likely to appeal to fans of the band’s most current music above all else, however long-term fans may also be pleased to see Raine once again pushing musical boundaries.