Friday, August 7, 2009

#146. 'She's focused on me'

Looking at the lower reaches of my list it strikes me just how many of the songs there are Canadian hits or non-hits that people in other areas of the world probably have no clue about. Hell, the two I've got in so far are ones most Canadians have probably pushed out of their mind already, so utterly inconsequential are they in the grand scheme of things. However, as with "No Coma," Big Wreck's "Ladylike" is one of those singles that I just find utterly entrancing in spite of how little it managed to get into the public's conscience.

Of course Big Wreck were never a household name, even in Canada where they had much greater exposure thanks to cancon laws (the government mandates that at least 30% of radio or TV has to feature Canadian content.) The four singles off 1997's pretty good if memory serves In Loving Memory Of... were huge hits up here, and apparently the first of these ("The Oaf (My Luck Is Wasted)") was even a rock radio hit in the states, but the singles off their 2001 follow up The Pleasure and the Greed were all but forgotten before they'd been out a week. And honestly, when the first single is as boring and unnecessary as "Inhale" was, why would anyone pay attention to whatever came out next? "Ladylike" was pretty unjustly ignored though, probably owing to how out of step with most mainstream rock singles it sounded as much as how poorly "Inhale" did is a lead single.

The key thing to remember is that this was released in the summer of 2001, when a little song called "How You Remind Me" (and it really, really pains me to write those four words in here) was first gaining traction. That was the sound of mainstream rock radio then, so any song that stood out from that couldn't help but be well-remembered by me. "Ladylike" is like the polar opposite of "HYRM" it tone and composition. The guitar doesn't take a backseat to the vocals, it's the focal point of the whole song. Thornley's voice is vulnerable, and the whole song is about his insecurities as opposed to the macho bullshit Kroeger was bringing to the fore with his voice so clear and studio-perfected that it left all emotion out of the equation. And "Ladylike" had a guitar solo, not one that was a technical marvel by any means but a pretty damn good one compared to what most mainstream rockers would pull out today. The worst part of this comparison isn't that Nickelback were the band that started to direct the sound of radio rock for the rest of the decade by excising its personality, but that Thornley has now thrown his lot in with Kroeger's record label and now seems to be releasing Nickelback cast-offs with his eponymous band.

Since 90% of my love of the song is based on the guitar playing the lyrics aren't gonna get as thorough a dissection as in previous entries. It's a pretty simple lyric all told, basically the story of a confident woman and a less than confident man's relationship summed up in4 lines: 'If I need you/to feel secure/it's cuz I'm not/you're ladylike and more' Confession time: until I actually looked up the lyrics I was confused as to what was meant by 'I'm not your ladylike anymore' which a) made no sense grammatically and b) had nothing to do with the woman in the situation being secure. Homophones can eat me.

But man, those guitar was odd enough to hear what sounds like a banjo introducing the song but to have the banjo roll resurface as the main guitar riff makes for an instantly memorable instrumental hook. The chorus is underpinned by simple chords in a straight rhythm, but the post chorus guitar break has some excellent use of offbeats without sounding too close to a normal ska-inflected riff. The guitar tone probably helps that last point: it's as gritty as any garage band but rendered clearly in the mix without sounding overly produced. Then the guitar solo comes in and bumps the song from excellent little oddity of post grunge to damn near essential. The tone Thornley dials in for those 32 seconds is closer to a harmonica than a normal guitar solo tone, and a lot of the little runs he does throughout it seem more inspired by a Neil Young harmonica solo than a Neil Young guitar solo. I'm no music scholar, just a dude with an unhealthy level of music geekdom, but I'd put Thornley's solo here as one of the 5 best guitar solos in modern rock history. It's just as complex as it needs to be, no unnecessary shows of skill that don't compliment the song itself, and fits in perfectly with the verse banjo riff that's used to back it for the most part.

I think that my love for "Ladylike" has more to do with it being one of the last things I heard in the early decade that didn't lead to my disillusionment with rock radio as a whole. I think I gave up listening to my local rock station with any frequency around the time that Theory of Deadman joined flurry of cookie-cutter post-post-grunge Nickelback clones that wound up representing Canada on rock radio, leaving truly interesting and individual bands out of the picture. I'm not saying "Ladylike" was the last essential slice of can-rock this decade (we are only 5 songs into this thing, just wait) but it's the one I think of when I ask myself what I wish rock radio had been shaped by as the decade wore on.

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