Above and beyond the financial problems introduced by the digital distribution of music, many hands have been wrung over cultural problems unleashed at the same time. A flood of virtual ink has been spilled this year, as an example, on a complaint voiced by the critic Simon Reynolds, in his book Retromania, which among other things is about how the relentless presence of the past, digitally speaking, has led to a state in which we don’t allegedly have a genuine, current-day culture, just an ongoing regurgitation of bygone stylings.
There are so many things that strike me as wrong with this complaint; probably time for an essay. In the meantime, I go back to one of Fingertips’ founding mottoes: listen with your ears, not your mind. The idea that music has to be stylistically “different” is a mental construct. To my ears, music can be different by simply being good. So, is a song like “The Reins To Your Heart” representative of some kind of new, 2010-ish musical style? Not a bit. Does this mean it can’t be good or that we are somehow culturally poorer because the Pittsburgh foursome New Shouts recorded it? Of course not. It’s a good song! Yes, its garage-soul groove harkens back to the proto-white-boy-soul of a group like the Soul Survivors (best known for “Expressway To Your Heart,” non-coincidentally enough). Why can’t a good song sound familiar? Why can’t it remind you of another good song?
To harp on stylistic similarities is to overlook other factors that make music both pleasing and emotionally resonant. I always start with melody, because that’s me. “The Reins To Your Heart” is one of those lucky songs that begins with its hook—a smartly constructed melody (beginning at 0:11, right out of that pleasantly clangy introduction) in which the first half traces a descending B minor chord, the second an ascending A minor chord. Comprised only of the three notes from these two adjacent chords, the melody has a natural swing, running down and up those third intervals, while likewise feeling solid and primal, the aural equivalent of a three-legged stool. And the chorus is no slouch either, affording the song a second and maybe even third hook (this is also one of the those lucky songs with more than one solid hook), via the “Baby, please believe me” segment, with its group lead vocal and classic-soul vibe, leading up to that unerring, off-the-beat response line, “I want you back.” We’ve heard all of this before. So what? It gives me that deep inner smile I get when I know the music is working. Retromania has nothing to tell me, or you, about that.
“The Reins To Your Heart” is the lead track from New Shouts’ first non-single release, the seven-song EP Sing New Shouts, which was self-released in September via Bandcamp.