Every once in awhile you hear a song for the first time, and you can’t get it out of your head. You need to listen to it again and again, and no matter how many times you hear it, it doesn’t get old. “Marion,” a haunting ballad on singer/songwriter Mikey Wax’s sophomore CD Constant Motion, is just such a song. I don’t know if it’s the arrangement that builds from a simply stated melody to a climax, and then falls back to echo the beginning with a framing effect. I don’t know if it’s the emotional intensity of the sometime cryptic lyric, which seems to speak to an ineffable relation between the past and the present. The Marion of the title is the mother of the woman the singer is in love with, perhaps has just married. She is a woman he has never met, but as he dances with her daughter who is wearing her long white dress, it is as though he can feel her presence, as though somehow the past is an inevitable part of the present. The trouble with getting too analytical is like any great lyric, the more you try to explain it, the more there is to say.
And “Marion” is not the only gem on the CD. Whether he slows things down with a ballad or goes uptempo, Wax has a knack for infectious pop melodies. In songs like “No Regrets” and “Keep Dreaming,” he can take a retro vibe and transform it into something new. Then in songs like “Long Lost Dream” and “Counting on You,” he can turn to propulsive power pop. He can move from the simple lines of “Fall For You” to the more complex rhythms of “How it Feels.” But no matter the direction, the melody is always front and center.
Constant Motion, the CD’s title, is taken from a phrase in “Counting on You.” In a world that is in constant motion, that is always changing, we need something, someone that we can count on. “Ah love, let us be true /To one another,” says a poet from an earlier day, for the world has “neither joy, nor love, nor light,/Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain.” This was Matthew Arnold way back in the 19th century, and it is a message Wax has resurrected for the 21st. “You and I, we will make it through” is Wax’s version of Arnold, and in one way or another it is the plaint of each of the eleven songs on the CD. Don’t get me wrong, these are not art songs. Most of these are the kind of pop tunes which will be playing on your local radio station any day now.
See for yourself. Check out the singer’s website: he’s offering his fans a couple of free downloads.