How do you review a song called ‘Reviews’?
My immediate instinct is to question if the song is poking fun at ham-fisted critical analyses a la ‘I am The Walrus.’ I thus scan the lyrics for any glaring walrus traps and my attention is immediately drawn to the final line of the chorus “Feels like this song don’t mean a thing.” Is Tancred giving the game away here? Is this abstract song just totally meaningless? Somehow I think not…
The song itself begins all urgency, with Thurston Moore electric guitar almost immediately accompanied by a first verse, brimming full of questioning melody and absent of much in the way of concrete meaning.
It takes highs and lows to celebrate you
It takes all my words just to sell them the truth
They don’t love me quite like they used to
They don’t love me quite like they did
Pay the girl tell her give me a hairdo
Paint my lips in shimmering French Blue
They always tell you don’t read the reviews
So I am blind but for pictures of you
The first verse hints at disappointment and frustration, potentially with artistic criticism in the past, but by the time the words “So I am blind but for pictures of you” leave Jess Abbott’s lips, I’ve gotten the hint: something much deeper and more personal than critical rejection is wrapped up inside these cryptic, defensive jabs.
When I went to brave
Snow covered happy Maine
How could I touch something so white?
Take from you something so bright?
How could I? How could I?
Everything is fine
It’s gonna take some time
When I see lines of trees
It feels like you’re with me
Feels like this song don’t mean a thing
By now it’s clear. The true topic of discussion is relationship breakdown, the self-flagellation that occurs afterwards, and the healing process that must inevitably occur. Abbott’s skill as a lyricist is evident however, as she pulls off the trick of taking a tried and trusted theme and placing it within an abstract mystery box, delaying the gratification of meaning to the listener, and rendering the understanding all that sweeter by the time it does finally arrive.
I’ve already spent a lot of words commenting on the lyrics, but it would be plain rude not to commend the tasteful arrangement and uplifting melody in this song. There are real traces of pop-punk in the production, but the more infantile elements of that genre have been tempered in favour of some subtler, quieter instrumentation choices that work to make the whole composition feel more grown-up. This is coupled with an interesting structure, involving elements like an unexpectedly early and stripped back second chorus, and subtle variations on the second bridge, that keeps the listener engaged over multiple re-listens. In particular, I was amazed that the song manages to concisely pack so much into a mere three minutes and nine seconds running time, no mean feat in the often overly bloated world of indie-rock.
So I return to my original question, how indeed does one review a song entitled ‘Reviews’? The answer, it would seem, is extraordinarily well. Beyond the prettiness of the vocal melody, Tancred’s real achievement here is to show us that she’s not writing for the reviews at all. Rather, she is writing for herself, and it’s all the more compelling for it.
‘Reviews’ will be featured on Tancred’s forthcoming new album, Nightstand, released via Hand in Hive/ Polyvinyl Records on June 1st 2018. Pre-order various bundles and formats here.
Photo Credit: Shervin Lainez