Thursday, December 16th, 2010

AMNESTY WEEK 2K10: The Tallest Man on Earth – The King of Spain

And so, following on from a top 10-cracker, we’ve got one that I think might just be about to bust up the controversy list something rotten…


Alex Macpherson: This is the best argument for feudalism I’ve ever heard.

Tal Rosenberg: I thought only that douche from Counting Crows wanted to be Bob Dylan.

Martin Skidmore: Another in the endless line of new Dylans, more literally so than most, in that he has the harsh, nasal, rather tuneless vocals along with the style, and even references a classic Dylan song (“Boots of Spanish Leather”). But Dylan isn’t revered because of his singing or the fact that he strums a guitar, but because he is one of the greatest songwriters and lyricists of all time. This guy has a reasonable feel for a tune and plays a nice acoustic guitar, but this is not terribly memorable and has some dreadful lyrics.

Katherine St Asaph: Sub-Dylan both in voice and lyrics — he takes one teensy reference and uses it to Wikipedia his way through the country to an extent where I’m shocked he didn’t shove the Armada in there. Decent guitar work, though.

Jer Fairall: The key here is that “Boots of Spanish Leather” reference: a classic enough album cut to not be esoteric, yet far enough off the popular radar to register as a secret handshake. Acknowledge it and realize that Kristian Matsson’s Dylanisms are not about affecting a nasal rasp or perfecting a troubadour posture, but rather — like the year’s wisest and most resonant pop homages, from “Fuck You” to “Tightrope” — about taking what you’ve learned from history to tell your own stories with that much more evocative force. Quintessentially 2010, in that regard, or at least indicative of the most thrillingly fluid and beautifully heartfelt music of the year that was.

Josh Langhoff: “I have a voice that sounds like Dylan’s / And that could mess up any kid.” Like many people saddled with a severe physical handicap, he’s learned to handle this one with grace and playfulness, even namedropping the appropriate song title with a wink. Really nice guitar arrangement, too — I love the high D-flat that just sort of hangs out during the chorus, dissonant with his voice, while chords change underneath, all without sacrificing any of his galloping momentum.

Jonathan Bogart: Caterwauling is a very risky singing strategy; you’ve got to have a song strong enough to stand up to the treatment. He doesn’t.

Anthony Easton: Randy Travis covered a Dylan song on his last album, and it was too cheerful to function as anything but a Randy Travis song. In its failure, it reminded me that acoustic guitar work in the last 40 years was in many ways, an attempt to process Dylan, to absorb and construct his meanings. Using the phrase Boots of Spanish Leather means that the connection to Dylan is explicit, and it has some of that sweetness and a lot of that sourness, but it has the exact opposite problem as Travis: it is too close, too respectful of the master. He should seriously spend a few days listening to Jason Isbell or Josh Ritter before he tries again.

Mallory O’Donnell: It’s tough to enjoy a low-budget version of something you basically despise. It’s a bit like being handed a photocopy of some hairy dude’s ass. No. No thank you.

Zach Lyon: Simple, really: I love bright, tiny guitars. I love unusual voices, especially the rusty ones that sound painful. I love sincerity — not the sincerity of his lyrics, which are at most sincerely ironic, but the sincerity of his intent, which shows up somewhere in his voice and his swagger. And I love long conceits that conclude in squishy turns like “Because you named me as your lover/Well, I thought I could be anything.”

Chuck Eddy: The quasi-flamenco strumming gives this some hint of rhythm and forward motion, and the singing is somehow wretched in a halfway diverting way. But none of the words evoke the romance I gather he’s shooting for. And the title mainly just makes me think of Sting.

Alex Ostroff: On an album of perfect, unassuming folk songs, this stands out. The centrepiece of an album consisting mostly of meditative guitar picking and melancholy, “The King of Spain” is filled with both more joy and yearning than anything else on The Wild Hunt. “I never knew I was a lover”, he declares, as shocked by the statement as the rest of us. The elongated “you” is entranced with the unexpected possibilities of romance. If something this wonderful is possible, why not monarchy? The locomotive guitar propels us forward, and the Tallest Man to even greater heights, until he flies too close to the sun. After two verses of bliss, he whispers, “Why are you stabbing my illusions, just cause I stole some eagle’s wings?” And then in just eight seconds, the song reverses course. A minute earlier, “Because you named me as your lover, well, I thought I could be anything”, would have been triumphant, but instead it’s accusatory, bitter, disenchanted and regretful. The final chorus aches, the final “the” wrenched from his throat with the memory of what might have been.

4 Responses to “AMNESTY WEEK 2K10: The Tallest Man on Earth – The King of Spain”

  1. I really liked this!

  2. Indeed, this stormed right up to #2. I’ve modified the way I calculate these to give more weight to a higher number of contributors, as a lot of songs with 6 or 7 reviews were placing suspiciously high.

    Here’s the latest list, final version after Amnesty Week:

    1. Nicki Minaj – Your Love (3.13)
    2. The Tallest Man on Earth – The King of Spain (2.82)
    3. The Knife – Colouring of Pigeons (2.75)
    4. M.I.A. – Born Free (2.63)
    5. Sleigh Bells – Infinity Guitars (2.59)
    6. Liz Phair – Bollywood (2.58)
    7. Everything Everything – MY, KZ, UR BF (2.57)
    8. Ciara f. Ludacris – Ride (2.54)
    9. MGMT – Flash Delirium (2.52, 12 contributors)
    10. YG – Toot It and Boot It (2.52, 7 contributors)
    11. Cee-Lo Green – Fuck You (2.51)
    12. Robyn – Fembots (2.49)
    13. LCD Soundsystem – Drunk Girls (2.46, 10 contributors)
    14. Jonsi – Go Do (2.46, 9 contributors)
    =15. Die Antwoord – Enter the Ninja (2.4)
    =15. Vampire Weekend – Giving Up the Ghost (2.4)
    16. R. Kelly – When a Woman Loves (2.39)
    17. Lyfe Jennings – Statistics (2.36)
    18. Carrie Underwood – Undo It (2.35, 11 contributors)
    19. Kid Sister – Big ‘n’ Bad (2.35, 6 contributors)
    20. Cali Swag District – Teach Me How to Dougie (2.34)

  3. Be cool to know how this would rate without the dinky Dylan allusion, which I always took as a tongue-in-cheek response to the vocal comparisons rather than a statement of purpose. I’m not a huge fan but from what I’ve seen, doesn’t seem like he’s trying at all to posture himself as a “new Dylan,” he’s just a hipster who admires him.

  4. not to be contrary, but i hear a lot less dylan and a lot more Dan Bern/Dead Milkmen