Song of the day: Ken Simpson – "He’s Not Looking"

I received a friendly email from an American musician by the name of Ken Simpson (Hi, Ken!). Ken told me about his new EP, You’re No Fun Anymore, and asked if I’d have a listen.

I had a listen, enjoyed it (sort of), and got carried away with my comments.

Brace yourself…

Ken Simpson – You’re No Fun Anymore (2013)

1. “The Poisoner’s Song


I can’t really comment positively on this song, because it contains almost all the things about late-Beatles-worship that irritate me:

a) Slow, simple drum beat
I’d be happy not to hear another drummer play in the patented “Relaxed Ringo” style.

b) The “Mellotron” sound
Just because The Beatles used the “flute” preset on their Mellotron for “Strawberry Fields Forever” doesn’t mean other musicians have to as well. The Mellotron had a lot more settings than simply “flute”.

c) A cello
I love the sound of the cello (it’s my favourite orchestral instrument), but hearing it in a slow, late-Beatles-ish song makes me sigh – not in a “Isn’t that lovely” way, but in a “Can’t we use a different instrument for a change?” way.

c) Singer doing an impression of John Lennon
Apart from the general “I’ll sound like John Lennon” vibe that pervades the vocal track on this song, I thought the Johnny-ising* went a bit too far when Ken sang the word “touch” at 0:50. He got all Liverpudlian and pronounced it “tooch” (as if it rhymed like “Look at the book I took”).

(*Or “Johnny I Sing”.)

Trivia: When Ken sang the phrase “This looks like lemonade” (0:51-0:54), I wondered if he’d missed an opportunity by not singing “Lennon-ade”.

I’m guessing this song is a good one, but my views of it are clouded by my dislike of hearing yet another song infused** with slow, late-Beatles sounds and playing.

(**I’d originally typed “infected” but thought that’s just being mean.)

2. “He’s Not Looking

Apart from the slide guitar in the introduction reminding me of (who else?) George Harrison, the melody in the verse (0:17-0:32) reminded me of something as well. I’m sure I’ve heard that tune somewhere before, but I can’t place it (at the moment). Hang on…

Got it:

Ken Simpson – “He’s Not Looking” (2013) (excerpt)

Link

Fountains Of Wayne – “All Kinds Of Time (2003) (excerpt)

Link

Actually, the chorus reminded me of something too, but I don’t know what. Grrr.

Bad News: The harmony singing from 1:19-1:21 is out of tune.
Good News: It doesn’t happen anywhere else in the song.

By the way, I liked this song much more than the first one (“The Poisoner’s Song”).

3. “When You Talk To Me

Moody. I like the low-key brass (which created the “moody”), but I didn’t like the syncopated drumming – especially from 0:43-0:58. I thought the syncopated tom-toms were a bit better (they weren’t as noticeable), but overall I thought the jumpy drumming didn’t suit the mood of the song.

I like the brass interlude from 1:59-2:26. Very nice.

Incidentally, Ken’s double-tracked voice when he sings the high notes in this song (e.g., “How can you…” from 2:50-2:52) sounds like Gerry Rafferty.

4. “Feeling So Much Better

This one started off reminding me of Gerry Rafferty as well. (See previous track.)

I can’t think of much to say about this one, because it’s pleasant and doesn’t do anything particularly noticeable by way of something like “Wow! What an unusual chord progression!”, or “Wow! It’s incredible how Ken’s spoken-word Emily Dickinson quotation fits perfectly in the middle eight!”, or “Wow! Who would have thought a shamisen solo could work in a pop song!” etc.

It’s pleasant.

And it has a mighty fine guitar solo (1:56-2:16). And a nice key change from 2:32 onwards.

5. “I Guess I Never Told You

Mmm: jazzy. And very smoooooooooth. Unfortunately, this track in particular highlighted Ken’s vocal limitations.

Disclaimer: Because I’m a dreadful singer, I always feel distinctly uncomfortable talking about somebody else’s singing if I think it’s not very good. I think that I have no right to even dare mention it. (As in: “Bad singing, Peter? Ha! You can talk!”)

But, like “When You Talk To Me”, this track also had a great brass interlude from 1:18-1:52. I like brass interludes.

Suggestion for the song’s arranger: During the brass interlude, instead of the cello sawing its way through that section how about a string trio? It’d sound a lot smoother.

Despite my misgivings about some aspects of this song, I liked it. This and track 2 (“He’s Not Looking”) are probably my two favourite songs on the EP.

6. “Perfect Day

The return of the Mellotron “flute” preset. But I’m OK with that because it’s not too noticeable.

And the return of Ken’s voice reminding me of Gerry Rafferty.

By the way, I think Ken likes starting his songs quietly for about half a minute before the rest of the band kicks in, because this this is the fourth song on the EP to do that.

Let’s see…

Track 1: “Poisoner’s Song” (41 seconds before the band comes in)
Track 2: “He’s Not Looking” (31 seconds)
Track 4: “Feeling So Much Better” (29 seconds)
Track 6: “Perfect Day” (43 seconds)

Yep. About 30 seconds.

But back to the song I’m listening to:

When “Perfect Day” gets a-goin’, I like the fuzz whatever-it-is in the left channel. (I think it’s a keyboard. Maybe.) And I enjoyed the backwards guitar panning around the soundstage, although it did remind me too much of, er, you know…

***

OK. That’s it. I suppose that’s what some people might call a review. (Not me.)

Oh. I just remembered.

It would be dreadfully impolite of me not to mention that You’re No Fun Anymore was produced by David Mead. And this was David Mead’s first production job.

So if you’re a David Mead fan, you can confidently go near this EP knowing that David Mead sprinkled a bit of his pixie dust on it.

(Disclaimer: David Mead may not be a pixie.)

***

Update: The unhelpful comment about David Mead’s pixiness was to be the end of the post, but Ken left a comment (see below) saying that his EP is available free o’ charge. You can grab it here:

If I may be permitted to speak on behalf of Ken:

Enjoy!

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5 Responses to Song of the day: Ken Simpson – "He’s Not Looking"

  1. vetken says:

    Wow Peter!

    I must say, I'm very impressed with your observations! You really listened! Thanks for your very astute comments.

    “The Poisoner's Song” is guilty as charged!! You don't know this, but I have accompanied Neil Innes (The Rutles, Bonzo Dog Band) on a few musical outings and am obviously trying to sound like The Beatles (or more probably The Rutles) in that song. I thought it was funny that you picked up on the “tooch” thing because I cringe a little bit now when I hear that. My Dad, born in Blackburn, England gives me a hard time for that too, ha ha!

    Overall I'm thilled with your take on my EP. I love Gerry Rafferty and would enjoy hearing that comparison anytime…. and Fountains of Wayne…I had no idea that bit sounded like “All Kinds of Time” but it's VERY possible I had heard that song before writing “He's Not Looking”. Damn, you're good!

    Anyway, thanks so much for taking the time. I thoroughly enjoyed reading your thoughts. I guess I like singing alone but I'll see what I can work out to allow the band in earlier on my next attempt to record, ha ha!

    All the Best!

    Ken

  2. Peter says:

    “Wow Peter!”

    “I must say, I'm very impressed with your observations! You really listened! Thanks for your very astute comments.”

    No problem. Thanks for sending me your music.

    ” “The Poisoner's Song” is guilty as charged!! You don't know this, but I have accompanied Neil Innes (The Rutles, Bonzo Dog Band) on a few musical outings and am obviously trying to sound like The Beatles (or more probably The Rutles) in that song.”

    I had an inkling you were fond of The Rutles because of your humour – and because your MP3s included a photo of you with them. (That’s a bit of a giveaway.)

    I absolutely adore The Rutles, and am mighty glad you’ve had some singalongs with Neil.

    “I thought it was funny that you picked up on the “tooch” thing because I cringe a little bit now when I hear that. My Dad, born in Blackburn, England gives me a hard time for that too, ha ha!”

    If your Dad's giving you grief over your inadvertent Liverpudlianism, then I’ll say no more about it. You certainly don’t need two people nagging you about a youthful indiscretion. (“I was young, and needed the money!”)

    “Overall I'm thilled with your take on my EP. I love Gerry Rafferty and would enjoy hearing that comparison anytime…….”

    I must admit that it was only “The Poisoner’s Song” where I thought you were doing The Lennon Thang with your voice. In the other songs I thought you sounded more like yourself, until you hit a couple of high notes and I thought “Wow, Ken sounds just like Gerry Rafferty there”. From that moment on I locked on to the Ken Simpson = Gerry Rafferty equation, and heard Gerry’s voice all over your songs.

    “… and Fountains of Wayne…I had no idea that bit sounded like “All Kinds of Time” but it's VERY possible I had heard that song before writing “He's Not Looking”. …”

    There are so many tunes floating in the ether at any given moment that a couple of them are likely to bump into each other occasionally. (That’s one reason why the Musical coincidences series on my blog is up to number 369 already – and I only started the blog four years ago.)

    “…Damn, you're good!”

    Aw, shucks.

    “Anyway, thanks so much for taking the time. I thoroughly enjoyed reading your thoughts. I guess I like singing alone but I'll see what I can work out to allow the band in earlier on my next attempt to record, ha ha!”

    Excellent.

    “All the Best!”

    “Ken”

    Thanks, young Ken.

  3. vetken says:

    oh and if anyone wants a free download….here's the link!

    http://noisetrade.com/kensimpson/youre-no-fun-anymore

  4. Anonymous says:

    I think Ken is being a GREAT sport. He handled your comments gracefully. And frankly, I thought they were far too harsh and critical. Some of them were pointless, too. Who cares that he has a pattern when it comes to how he starts his songs?

    Big fat “boo” to this review.

  5. Peter says:

    Thanks, Anonymous. I've never had a Review Boo© before.

    My reaction to the music, and your reaction to my reaction reminds me yet again of the uniqueness and marvellousness of personal taste. And I'm extremely pleased that you were sufficiently stirred by my nonsense to let me know what you think. Much obliged, Eloquent Dissenter.

    (I hope you don't mind me calling you “Eloquent Dissenter”, but I'd rather give you a proper name instead than the frightfully common “Anonymous”.)

    As for some of my comments being too harsh and critical, I'd say you're right. Unfortunately, I don't have a “smooth-talking” switch in my brain that allows me to gloss over things that irritate me in songs.

    And as for my comments being pointless, I agree completely. I also don't have a “don't talk about that because it's not interesting to anyone but yourself” switch in my brain. If I notice something in a song, no matter how inconsequential, I'll mention it.

    Ah well. But at least all that waffling about the music of Ken Simpson's prompted my first Review Boo. Woohoo!

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