Talking Voice vs. Singing Voice (Tooth & Nail)
by Scott Deckman
Perhaps reeling from the backlash of Starflyer 59‘s last effort, I Am the Portuguese Blues, a foray back into shoegazer mush and buzzing guitars, bandleader Jason Martin leads the band back to cleaner, poppier waters on Talking Voice vs. Singing Voice. That said, those who are on the bandwagon hailing this as a successor to their masterpiece, 2001’s Leave Here a Stranger, are a bit off in the noggin. Still, after a brief spell in the wilderness, Christ’s favorite band is at least back in the saddle of, well, the camel. For a spiritually-inclined band, Starflyer 59 are more likely to sing about life’s travails than its triumphs, sounding at once more sincere than mopers like The Cure or that newer emo garbage.
Plus they use saxophone. Who else does that anymore?
And don’t let this record’s diaper-washed, sleek, sometimes-gorgeous sound fool you, Martin still has the blues. Just check out these lyrics: “The contest completed… I’ve beaten no one,” from opener “The Contest Completed,” “And it’s taken such a long time, long time/Can we ever make it right, right, right?” from “Good Sons,” an otherwise upbeat-sounding disco tune that in a sane world would be both a Top 10 smash and dancehall crasher. “What’s the use in living?/If you can’t make a good living?” he asks in the beautifully orchestrated “Good Living.” Good question, and he even begs Christ for an answer. Looks like he’s getting pretty sick of having to drive a truck to support his rock’n’roll dreams, forever realizing that indie rock Valhalla doesn’t equal financial security. Martin’s visited this theme before in his oeuvre, but never on this scale. This is also the devout Christian’s most overtly religious album, which again juxtaposes the fact that it may be his darkest.
“Easy Street” either continues the never-ending search for gold at the end of pop’s gilded rainbow, or reflects on the turmoil it takes to live out a righteous life in this increasingly sinful world. It must kill Martin to know that no matter how good – or sometimes great – a songwriter he is, he’ll never grab that brass ring. “A Lists Go On” is even more cynical, proclaiming, “Cause no one ever listens/So tell me what’s the difference?” Closer “Longest Line” is my favorite cut, if for no other reason than it’s the only track I can think of from the whispery-voiced Martin that I’d want to hear an all-girls choir sing the callback chorus to: “The bright star’s comin’ to meet the needful/ So get in the longest line.” Least that’s what I hope he’s saying… Martin’s not the best enunciator in the world, but this is a “problem” he’s always used to his distinct advantage, as it lends inscrutability to the proceedings. But the track’s message is clear and is a dominating theme of the record and his life itself: He wants to meet that bright star when he dies.
Again, regardless of the dark subject matter, this may be Martin’s cleanest record to date. Despite all the multi-tracking and various strings, synthetics, and, of course, guitars that move in and out of these songs, Talking Voice vs. Singing Voice still maintains an airy space, which is rather remarkable. I just wish somebody would stick his ass on MTV2 so he’d shut up already. He’s paid his dues, he deserves it. I mean, what would Jesus do?