Wednesday, March 23, 2011

March 23: Soul Asylum, "Somebody To Shove"

Artist: Soul Asylum
Song: "Somebody To Shove"
Album: Grave Dancer's Union
Year: 1992

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Though it is an exceptionally rare occurrence, there are a few instances throughout the course of music history, where any way that one attempts to label a band almost instantly renders itself inaccurate.  While it is to be expected that some may simply incorrectly label a band as something they are not, it is not often that the definition that most use to "correct" such a label is also an incomplete way of describing the sound of a band.  Though it does not happen often, this was exactly the circumstance that seemed to follow Minneapolis-based rockers, Soul Asylum.  By the time the band gained international fame, they had already been recording for nearly a decade, and perhaps due to the time in which their most commercially successful album was released, as well as the image they portrayed, the band was lumped in with the "grunge" movement that was dominating the airwaves in 1992.  If one takes a step back, it is quite clear that they have very few similarities with such a sound, and many moved to label the band as "alternative rock."  However, when one looks deeper into the album in question, 1992's Grave Dancer's Union, it is easy to make the argument that the bands' sound is so distinctive, that if they are given such a label, it cannot be applied to any other band.  Bringing a melodic, yet aggressive tone, there is no song that better highlights the brilliantly unique sound of Soul Asylum than one finds in their 1992 single, "Somebody To Shove."

The instant that "Somebody To Shove" begins, the tone of the song, as well as just how different the bands' musical approach is becomes quickly apparent.  The almost chaotic, warning-like sound that comes from the guitar of Dan Murphy gives the listener no choice but to pay complete attention, and the way in which the song quickly drops into the full band sound is absolute musical perfection.  It is in the first few bars of the "full band" portion of the song where one can understand why the group is so far apart from their peers, as the tone and mood they are able to create remains largely unmatched to this day.  The light, yet aggressive second guitar from Dave Pirner gives the song a link to almost folk sounds, and yet it is also this same aspect that gives "Somebody To Shove" its full, almost overwhelming sound.  The rhythm section of bassist Karl Mueller and drummer Grant Young is also at the top of their game, and the strict cadence which they put forth gives the song an almost punk-like mood.  It is perhaps due to this overwhelming amount of attitude coming through on the song that enabled many to link the group to the grunge movement, yet it is impossible to deny that there was far more going on musically on "Somebody To Shove" than on almost any other recording of the time.  Furthermore, in terms of both the musical arrangement, as well as the mood conveyed, a catch-all term like "alternative rock" is almost selling the song short of the magnificent power and energy that can be found within "Somebody To Shove."

However, though the song is unquestionably one of the bands' finest musical moments, there is no question that the key to the mood is the voice and lyrics of Dave Pirner.  Across the entire recorded catalog of Soul Asylum, it is the powerful, yet somehow gentle voice of Pirner that defined the bands' sound, and "Somebody To Shove" is unquestionably one of his finest performances.  There is a nervous, almost frustrated tone in his vocals on the song, and it is this element that helps to highlight the same feeling coming forth from the music.  Pirner is able to keep this mood perfectly balanced throughout the song, while he works the entire vocal scale, and adds the ideal amount of attitude and growl and various turns on the song.  It is due to the way range of vocal inflection found on "Somebody To Shove" that gives the song a certain sense of excitement, and it is also this performance that proves just how unique Pirner was in comparison to his peers.  Yet it is the absolutely perfect lyrics on "Somebody To Shove" that push the song far beyond the rest of the bands' catalog, as few lyrics in history have mirrored the mood achieved by the vocals and music as superbly as one finds here.  The nervous tension is pushed to an almost chaotic point, and though somewhat simple, the way in which Pirner delivers lines like, "...hello, speak up, is there somebody there? These hang-ups are getting me down..." frame the nervous mood of the song and make "Somebody To Shove" a truly unforgettable work of musical art.  Furthermore, it is the way in which Pirner is able to make these sentiments feel so universal that makes the song so appealing, and make have taken "Somebody To Shove" as their own anthem of the decade.

There is no question that "Somebody To Shove" would be quickly eclipsed by the bands' second single from Grave Dancer's Union, and yet before the release of the latter, "Somebody To Shove" cracked the top ten on the "Mainstream Rock" charts, as well as topping the "Modern Rock" singles chart.  Though the song does an exceptional job of reflecting the mood and tone of the album that followed, it is also a bit sonically unique for the band, and easily sets itself atop their entire recorded catalog.  If one takes a step back and looks a "Somebody To Shove" alongside the other music being released at the time, it is easy to make the case that the song belongs in a category all its own, as the way in which the band blends together everything from punk to hard rock to folk is completely unlike any other group recording at the time.  However, largely due to the image that the band presented, they were lumped in with the grunge movement, and such a classification sells the band massively short of the exceptional musicianship and performance that can be found across this album.  Furthermore, no other song on Grave Dancer's Union holds up over the years as well as "Somebody To Shove" does, and nearly two decades after its first release, the power and attitude behind the song still come off as fresh and captivating.  It is this mood, and the uniquely aggressive, angst-filled sound put forth by the entire band that makes Soul Asylum's 1992 song, "Somebody To Shove" such a uniquely magnificent moment in music history.

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