Tuesday, 30 November 2010
Chris Rea: The Road to Hell Review (Text)
I heard this song on the radio yesterday evening whilst driving back from the gym, and it hooked me instantly. The track opens with a low level foreboding tone reminiscent of the scores of many old horror movies, and this is accompanied by an almost inaudible vocal track, which appears to be a radio or television broadcast recording, creating a fascinating level of suspense, and evoking thoughts of fear, perhaps even terror. The odd word will occasionally stand out, such as the word “freak”, which forces you to listen to the song more intently, in case there is some hidden message buried under the layers of atmospheric instrumentals you might hear. The faint audio track is strongly reminiscent of the audio featured on many Church of Misery tracks prior to their opening riffs, which often feature interviews with serial killers, or news broadcasts relating to the same. The fact that you can’t hear what the vocals are describing in this instance, however, makes it infinitely more chilling, and at the same time, far more interesting as well. Rea's Voice kicks in straight after this, as most of the instrumental audio fades out, to leave his voice clear, and crisp, against a faint strings background. This is probably most reminiscent of Till's opening monologue at the start of "Heirate Mich", and sets a nice tone for the rest of the song.
When the song itself kicks off, it takes things to another level still, combining the atmospheric synths heard earlier with a very sharp sounding guitar tone, and what would be a catchy pop-style drum beat were it not for the dark sound of the rest of the song. This is all accompanied by a classical piano, yet another instrument frequently used in horror soundtracks.
Rea’s vocals themselves, however, are what really make this song. His dark, harsh, haunting tone is almost identical to Leonard Cohen’s in his bleak, dystopian record ‘The Future’, and the lyrical content of the song is similar as well. Whilst the latter part of the song deals with more mundane social issues than ‘The Future’, which focuses more on the more brutal social evils we see in the modern age, the lyrics in these later verses are still very powerful, and pass on a strong feeling of dread. The first main verse after the intro and bridge, on the other hand, is so similar in style to ‘The Future’ that if you had simply showed me the lyrics to the verse and asked me to guess who wrote them, I would immediately have said ‘Leonard Cohen’, especially for the line ‘And the perverted fear of violence, chokes a smile on every face’ – one of the most mind-blowing lines I remember hearing in years. In fact, it's probably the best line I've heard in a song since I went through Leonard Cohen's musical catalogue back when I was 18 and first heard songs like 'The Future' or 'First we take Manhattan'; it's that memorable, and evokes that much emotion. Stick lyrics like these in a Cohen-sounding song like this one, and you have a recipe for success.
On the subject of lyrics, I would also like to applaud Rea’s use of the word ‘Motorway’ during the first section of the song. Often, British artists will change their vocabulary to suit an American audience better, so it’s nice to see one who doesn’t, and this also gives the song a more raw quality, and makes it feel more natural, and therefore more relevant. By not changing the lyrics to hide his nationality, Rea has made them seem more personal, and this makes them more haunting than had he not done so, because the lyrics go from being just the words of a song, to someone’s honest opinion about the way the world is turning.
So, if you’re a fan of Leonard Cohen’s late 80s - early 90s work, or just want to hear a really cool-sounding dark song, be sure to check this one out. The video's also pretty similar looking to Oliver Stone's video to 'The Future' from the end of Natural Born Killers in places, with the sped up sections of traffic intercut with dark domestic scenes, so why not check it out? It definitely gets my approval.