During Advertising Week 2014, I had the privilege of attending what I consider to be a priceless event – a conversation between Pandora founder Tim Westergren and legendary hit producer Nile Rodgers. As part of this discussion, Nile Rodgers eloquently highlighted the purpose of a lead single. Its key purpose is to drum up interest in an upcoming album. It does NOT have to be the most artistically credible song on the album. But no one outlined the rules for how the role of the lead single changes in the midst of a global pandemic that impacts literally every single person on the planet in some capacity. Some of the defining characteristics of this global pandemic include a tragic death toll, high unemployment, the death of many businesses, anxiety, and uncertainty around both the present as well as the foreseeable future. Commercial endeavors (including those that are manifestations of art forms such as music) run the risk of coming across as being tone deaf in a time like this. How does one facilitate the balancing act between a commercial endeavor and much needed empathy? A message that speaks directly to the moment that we are in can go a long away in striking this seemingly non-trivial balance – as proven by veteran act Johnny Hates Jazz (famous for songs such as “Shattered Dreams”, “Turn back the clock”, “I don’t want to be a hero” as well as for “Magnetized” – the song that kickstarted their unlikely comeback in 2013) as they return with their new single “Spirit Of Love”.
“Spirit of Love” marks a dramatic shift from the band’s trademark sonic template. Their trademark sound blends an uptempo vibe with a cloak of studio gloss and stylish swagger, that when removed reveals an unadulterated melancholy. While the melancholy is very much there on “Spirit of Love”, it is nestled in a shell of social commentary on the times that we are in right now as indicated by the following lyrics:
Can you hear the cryin’
Of a world in so much pain
I look up to the heavens
But nothing seems to change
I wanna feel there’s something more
To life, and all this hate and war
The song was written over two years ago and while it was thematically appropriate at the time, the call for the “Spirit of love” on the song’s chorus resonates even more in this rather bizarre moment in time. Stylistically speaking, the relatively downtempo “Spirit of Love” is a bold choice of a lead single for a band that finds themselves constantly having to measure up to the highs of their signature hit “Shattered Dreams”. Their comeback single “Magnetized” (released in 2013) achieved this lofty expectation and brimmed with the sonic ingredients that made “Shattered Dreams” a global hit whose sonic luster time is unable to erode. In a strange way, “Magnetized” became the litmus test to prove that they still “had it” after a hiatus of over two decades. Conventional wisdom would suggest that the duo (Clark Datchler and Mike Nocito) repeat this formula (although I doubt that anything about the conception of “Magnetized” was formulaic). In view of this, I applaud the band for taking a chance with a sound that while different and downtempo, is also timeless and is unlikely to get bucketed into a specific era.
Johnny Hates Jazz first previewed an acoustic version of the song during their “30th anniversary of Turn Back The Clock” concerts in Singapore and London in early 2018. This went a long way in creating excitement for the next chapter of Johnny Hates Jazz. It also has the effect of anchoring expectations for what the final studio version of the song should sound like. I had the privilege of attending the 30th anniversary concert at the Indigo (at the O2) in London back in 2018. I absolutely enjoyed the classy electric guitar solo by Mike Nocito after the song’s second chorus. Sadly, this section has been jettisoned. One cannot help but make comparisons. This is a minor criticism. The removal of the electric guitar solo does not detract from the song one bit.
“Spirit of Love” reveals yet another strand of musical versatility for Johnny Hates Jazz as they venture into sounds that people do not typically associate with them. The song also hints at a potentially deeper exploration of lead singer Clark Datchler’s growing penchant for social commentary on the band’s upcoming album “Wide Awake” (slated for release on August 14, 2020). Needless to say, I can barely wait for the new album – especially since it has been over 7 years since the band’s last album “Magnetized” saw the light of day.
Here is the full-length music video for the new single (The song is slated for release on May 29, 2020):
STAR RATING: 4 OUT OF 5 STARS
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