Friday, September 9, 2016

The Number Nine/September: Brand New, 1996

September is upon us and the Back-to-School commercials have been diluting our regularly scheduled football games for weeks. For those of us who don’t remember what visceral feelings the dread of the first day back to school manifests, we’re left with the occasional nightmare of being late to a class we can’t find or finishing an unending homework assignment while everyone we know watches us fail. That can’t be just me, can it?

In my last years of public schooling, I was firmly entrenched in music enlightenment from the likes of The Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers, The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds, Bad Company and Boston’s eponymous albums, The Essential REO Speedwagon, and The Beatles’ Revolver, but the music that most vividly returns me to that time of my life is a band more my contemporary, Brand New.

A rock band from Long Island, New York, Brand New seemed to me to be one of the few bands at the time that had a combination of the same themes I loved from the older music I was listening to. They brought intelligent and understandable lyrics to a similar spectrum that spanned from hard rocking to gentle ballads all while channeling the sexiness of Mick in Miss You and the bedroom eyes of Kevin Cronin in Keep on Loving You. Brand New’s second album, Deja Entendu was their crowning achievement at the time and I still see that familiar astronaut from the album cover, whether it’s on the CD in my car or the thumbnail on my computer.

In early 2006, while Brand New was working on their third album, nine demo tracks were leaked on the internet. Untitled 02, later officially titled 1996, is the song from the leak that most interests me. Even before the first chorus, it’s a rare listener that doesn’t have a singular name for who this song sounds so much like. That name, fans referred to the leaked song as “Morrissey” until the official title came years later, is chiefly suggested by the emotionally morbid lyrics sang in an unpredictable cadence that jumps from meandering to syncopated sprinting and the heavily reverbed, almost sorrowful guitar licks. After the flashback-inducing beginning, Brand New begins to strengthen their own touch on the song by using their familiar guitar sounds and a crowd-provoking chorus.

Admittedly a lyric guy, the most cerebral part of the song for me is that chorus, a tongue-in-cheek, self-congratulatory toast to the singer and his mourning friends: “And so three cheers for my morose and grieving pals/and now let’s hear it for the tears that I’ve welled up/we’ve come too far to have to give it all up now” The sentiment is possibly more relevant than ever now that media spends more time discussing which celebrities and politicians did or didn’t send their condolences after every death or tragedy than on the event itself.

The song had still been just a demo all these years, from the time I was a teen through the entirety of my twenties, until earlier this year Brand New released 3 Demos, Reworked, an EP that contains three of the original leaked demos and their new, re-recorded versions. Unfortunately, some of my favorite words were changed in the reworked version and a lot of the grit and edges have been sanded down. I suppose that’s a metaphor for time itself and the notion that one can get a clear look into the past.

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