02 January, 2008

Riding the Subway

In my opinion, there aren't many bands who sound better live than they do recorded. In this category, I can now place the Subways, a punky Brit-teen group that had a hit with the rollicking "Rock & Roll Queen" a couple years back. 2006's Young for Eternity was popular with OC fans and ironic hipsters, but after the maddeningly incessant airplay accorded to "Rock & Roll Queen" the Subways were left to wander their underground tunnels, teenage angst and beat-up guitars in hand.

Well, maybe their fall wasn't that bad. The band is currently recording their sophomore album. I'm just beginning to feel some affection for Young for Eternity, now that my ears have stopped ringing every time I hear the opening guitar noise of "Rock & Roll Queen". That song will be forever linked to the OC in my dark and messy mind, and whether some other young person can extricate the catchy melody from the disgusting drama and awful acting of one horrible television hit is really a question for another time. For now, I'm enjoying The Subways Live and Acoustic in Magdeburg. Recorded in a German city and released in November, this collection of seven songs is truly sublime. The Subways' punk jangle and ragged vocals were meant for live/acoustic intimacy, a far cry from the stadium rock spotlight they found themselves basking under a few years back. The songs are generally short and sweet, and sound more multifaceted with the lack of production effects weighing down their inherent simplicity.

The opening "Oh Yeah" rumbles and jingles with dive-bar grime instead of studio shine. You can hear the titular "oh yeah"s as they bounce around the room. "Mary" is a wailing ode to the girl of every wandering boy's dreams. Mary's the kind of girl who'll let you hang around even when you're lazy and lacking in motivation, and she'll also keep you full of tea and smiles according to the lyrics of this song. Short, sweet, and to the point. In this case, the sound of Billy Lunn's oscillating voice could sate the romantic appetite of any girl who's heard enough "Hey There Delilah" from her boy's MP3 player. "No Goodbyes" reminds me of acoustic Nirvana. The sound isn't as husky or deep, but Lunn brings his voice awfully close to Cobain's weary apathetic whisper-wail. My favorite song on this album is the buzzing "With You", that is repetitively good-natured and sweet. Sample lyric: "When I'm with you it seems so easy...". Maybe it's not the beginning of a Shakespeare sonnet, but the Subways have a way of writing lines that capture an entire emotion with incredible simplicity. The next two songs are the two which have given The Subways the most air-time: "I Want To Hear What You've Got To Say" and (of course) "Rock & Roll Queen". Although I've heard these songs countless times before, I found their acoustic versions particularly refreshing and engaging. Even "Rock & Roll Queen" takes on a new meaning when the underlying lust of the song is loosed upon the listener. The final song is a clapping, raucous, crowd celebration, more of a gift to the big fans than a gem for the casual listener. Still, this song isn't too shabby and would probably be fun background music for a late-night drive or an early-morning party.

Overall, The Subways Live and Acoustic in Magdeburg shows a young band at their best: far from the grasping hands of greedy record company executives and soul-stealing recording equipment.

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