Friday, February 24, 2006

Albums You Need: Stolen Wishes

Ah, c'mon. You knew I'd get to Shoes eventually.

As with Sweet's 100% Fun, however, this isn't a wholly obvious choice. Shoes reputation was built and cemented with 1979's Present Tense, as close to a perfect pop record as has ever been produced. The two radio singles were "Tomorrow Night" and "Too Late," sung by Jeff Murphy and Gary Klebe respectively, but the record had easily five or six other songs which were as catchy and melodic, as fraught with earworms. (Go ahead and ignore "I Don't Miss You," I dare you!)

But Present Tense barely needs my kudos. I want to focus on 1989's Stolen Wishes, an album as cohesive and catchy as PT, but much less appreciated (and so one you, gentle reader, are more likely to need).

It's bookended by two brilliant John Murphy compositions: "Feel the Way That I Do" and "Never Had It Better." The first is the psychic flipside of "Please Please Me," it seems, but I like it partly because it's one of the few pop songs I know to deal directly with the issue of the female orgasm. (An odd omission from the canon of pop topics, it seems to me. It's at least as interesting as the ubiquitous heartbreak and adolescent rebellion, no?) The last is everything a pop song should be: catchy, cute, and fun. I'd count them among the fines of his compositions throughout his career.

In between, SW is full of gems of various descriptions. Some of my favorites include:
"I Knew You'd Be Mine": Like a lot of this record, this is a sweet song. (As I've noted elsewhere, this disc is remarkably free of the anguish and sometimes outright misogyny which marks some other Shoes' records.) But what's most compelling about this some is the dead-on-balls accurate channelling of Roger McGuinn on the part of Jeff Murphy. Shoes generally leaned toward the melodic rather than the jangly, but this one has a read Byrds vibe to it which I love.
"I Can't Go Wrong": Another good example of the relatively upbeat nature of this record. There's a certain swagger to this song that cheers me to no end. I never really bought the sad-sack version of romance so common in the early records--they were too cute altogether for that to be really true--and this song strikes me as fundamentally more accurate.
"Your Devotion": Look, I take it as a given that men like oral sex. At least, I never met one who didn't. Given that, it's a bit surprising how few songs in this male-dominated genre deal directly with the issue. This Gary Klebe tune is pretty unabashed about its subject matter (one does show devotion on one's knees, no?), and lines like "Looking up, but going down to do what you do best" suggest a good-natured approach to sexuality.
"She's Not the Same": Generally, I eschew male-to-male songs about the transition of women's affection. There's something weird and medieval and proprietary about them which bothers me. Having said that, I know I've been the subject of at least one such conversation in my life, the "keep the pedal down when you start her in the morning" sort of discussion, so I know that such conversations do happen, even among men who should know better. And this Jeff Murphy tune is pretty respectful generally, as well as thoughtful and melodic, so it has lots to recommend it.
"Love Is Like a Bullet": The metaphor in this song is kind of weird, I think--second only to 20/20's "Jet Lag" as an odd paralel for romance--but the song itself is a model for the kind of melodic structure that characterizes power pop.

Even the songs I'm somewhat agnostic about on SW have some charm. Klebe's "Want You Bad," for example, is pretty basic and straightforward, so much so that its closest parallel (and I say this cringing, with all apologies) is the song Dirk Diggler and Reed Rothchild attempt to write in Boogie Nights. (Not the Transformers theme, the original composition called something like "Feel My Heat.") So even though there's not an awful lot to it, musically or lyrically, I smile at it.

In any case, this is an egregiously underrated record, warm and catchy, full of hooks and gems. What else can you ask for?


Susie said...

I used to cover "Please Please Me" with my band, and seemed to be the only one who understood it was about BJs. I thought it worked much better as a female anthem.

Gardner said...

Hadn't thought about "Please Please Me" that way ... opens up whole new vistas.

I've had and loved "Present Tense" a long time. Obviously it's way past time to enlarge the collection. Thanks for this essay in appreciation....

And I confess I don't understand the whole "pedal down" "transition" thing ... can you explain a bit more? I may be doing something wrong, or right, after 26 years of marriage. Either way I'd love to know....

NYMary said...

When a woman gets herself together to leave a relationship that isn't working (and sorry, guys, but I think men rarely bother to do so--they tend to stick it out until they have something else lined up), she'll take up with someone else eventually. It's a weird sociological observation that the ex often seems to feel it's his duty to take the new guy out for coffee or a beer or whatever and discuss the "management" of the woman in question with him (thus the "keep the pedal down" observation, as though she's a used car whose tics need to be helpfully passed along). "She's Not the Same" is a song from the new guy to the old guy, essentially explaining that he's been replaced. I don't think this one's too bad, but there's definitely a "transfer of property" vibe about it.

Gardner said...

Very strange. I can understand a talk that says "I'm the one she used to love," with some wry and bruising dialogue, but a lesson in maintenance? Feh.

I once had some pizza with a guy who needed to know that his old flame really was now my fiancee and he'd just need to get used to that ... all was well eventually. But I've not experienced the "here's what you need to know about her" talk, on either side.

Live and learn. Thanks for the explanation, Mary!