too much typing—since 2003


no buttons to push

About a year ago (in my usual out-of-the-loop fashion), it took someone else babbling about a new Jason Falkner EP for me to find out it even existed; anyway, ceej (that person) offered to dub me a copy if I couldn't find it (I did, and bought it). Anyway, ceej remembered my Falkner fandom, and told me that Falkner's cover of "Touch and Go" on the Cars tribute album was worth hearing, if probably one of the only tracks worth hearing thereon. (Just judging from the tracklisting, I'd probably agree.) Worth hearing, yes - but I'm not sure it does all that much for me besides making me go back and listen to the original in the context of the Cars' Panorama album.

The first thing I noticed comparing the two versions is that Falkner's straightened out the odd rhythmic base of the original's verses. In the Cars' version, the bass and drums are in 5/4, while the vocals and keyboards are in 4/4. (They sync up in 4/4 for the choruses, of course). Falkner both simplifies (everything's in the same time signature now) and chooses the more complex time signature: all instruments are in 5/4 in his version.

Panorama might be my favorite Cars album (out of the first three - steady decline thereafter), if only because after the huge commercial success of the first two albums, the band decided to get slightly weirder rather than slicker (that, alas, happened quickly enough). This is apparent from the very beginning of the first, titular track, with electronically treated drums that sound more like someone bouncing a basketball inside an empty semi-trailer than a drum kit. Once the rest of the instruments kick in, it just gets weirder: again, the song's in two time signatures at once, with the drums keeping a steady backbeat in 2, while the rest of the song alternates a 9-beat pattern with an 8-beat pattern. (If you're doing the math, all this comes together after 34 beats, i.e., what sounds like 8 bars of 4/4 with a stray bar of 2/4 afterwards.) Anyway, that's not what makes the song good; that just makes it interesting to a former teen prog-rock geek like me. What makes it good? Lots of nice little touches: the rhythm guitar figure during the first verse, a distant cousin of the "Pleasant Valley Sunday" riff perhaps (it's altered to a chordal pattern later); the swirling background phasing; the sixteenths on distorted hi-hat; the way the chorus is dropped down half a step to add color (rather than the stereotypical step upward); and best of all, Elliott Easton's fabulous flamenco-style palm-muted lick behind the chorus. Easton's all over this track, in fact, with that distorted riff in the lead-in to the chorus, some nice fills throughout, and a couple of fine, understated solos.

Easton's solos in "Touch and Go" are far less understated; in fact, they burn with the kind of rockstar fire that probably contributed not a little to the Cars' acceptance on late-seventies AOR radio. More things to like about this track: the little echoey guitar punctuations, which are just one of the ways the band arranges the track so every verse has its own character. I'm also fond of the spaghetti-western low-register tremolo guitar in the chorus.

The Cars "Panorama"
The Cars "Touch and Go"
Jason Falkner "Touch and Go"


nimbleboy said...

excerpt from JF's liner notes:

"I was a little classical piano student and aspiring Rock God when the song I've covered on this tribute sand blasted my head. What an oddly syncopated pop song and you see, because I was studying piano, I was the first nerd on my block to proclaim that "the verse is indeed in the time signature of 5/4!" Holy shit. I hadn't heard "Touch and Go" in ages but it was the first song that came to mind when I was contacted about this release. The Cars' original version is so jagged and alien and amazing that I didn't want to "cop" that vibe too much so I didn't listen to the song again until I had done the drums, bass and guitar according to my memory of the arrangement. Hence the differences."


2fs said...

Cool - thanks for the info!