What part of a new song stands out most during that first listen can vary from person to person. Some people connect with the lyrics; others gravitate to an intriguing instrument or sound; still others are most drawn to the melodies, harmonies, and rhythms. When an artist or band can manage to consistently grab hold of listener attention through all the above elements, paying attention becomes a virtually irresistible and inevitable result. Nashville, Tennessee guitar duo, Striking Matches, definitely checked the aforementioned boxes in spades when Sarah Zimmerman and Justin Davis burst out of Belmont University’s classrooms and onto the public scene by way of multiple sync placements in primetime hit show, Nashville, back in 2015 and their soon following debut album, Nothing But the Silence (I.R.S. Nashville, 2015), featuring many of said hit songs.
Since those explosive initial years, Zimmerman and Davis have spent time re-shaping the sound of their synchronous guitar playing. Moving from rebelliously charged but relatively straight-toned power duets about love, loss, and playful spite, the duo started to throughly explore sonic grey areas with bolder guitar tones and vocal effects – most recently for new single, “Boring,” which is part of an ongoing EP trio project thematically titled Morning, Noon, and Night.
Bestowed with what could be perceived as an off-putting title, “Boring” is a song for the different of the world: the square pegs in round holes, the quieter among the loud, the patterned among the plain, and so on. It’s a sentiment that connects with individual empowerment and given how Striking Matches struck out on their own as independent artists with this new batch of material, positive empowerment seems like a perfect fit for inspiration. Furthermore, there’s certainly no lack of metaphorical associations in “Boring’s” lyricism – an aspect of Striking Matches’ songwriting that has always excelled, given how their previous work managed to embolden the emotional impact and recollective strength of storylines and characters not explicitly written to match the music when it was composed.
That said, the lyricism and word play in “Boring” actually takes a U-turn and comes back to hurt the song’s full potential. As two seasoned, successful composers who understand and recognize the sound and feeling of a memorable chorus and illustrative verses, it’s surprising to say the least, and disappointing to say the most, that the complete lyrical picture ends up being just a compilation of any idiom, trope, or contrasting turn of phrase Davis and Zimmerman can think of. If someone has never heard a song before and knows what words are coming before they arrive, it’s not predictability in a thematically understandable sense but rather predictability in a wholly cruise-controlled sense.
They say we’re foolish,
for living like we’re gonna die
When they try and stick us in a box
We flip the script
and blow the plot
Looking for gasoline
You ain’t seen anything
– Lyrics from “Boring”
“Boring” would hardly be the first song in the history of secular music to make what’s perhaps an excessive use of thematic writing. (Miranda Lambert’s single “Automatic” is nothing if not verses composed of plainly stated call backs to objects and actions that used to take longer to operate than they do at present.) However, when a mainstream-aiming song takes a breather in the lyrical department, it’s common to find artistic stimulation in other areas of the song and, with the duo’s proven instrumental skills, one would be hard pressed not to assume complexity would be diverted to the wordless half of the track.
Yet, the chord progression, rhythmic structure, and even the slide guitar solo at Zimmerman’s full disposal don’t seem to squarely compensate for the predictable nature of the words. Where the latter is concerned, Zimmerman’s usual display of extreme dynamics, rapid pitch shifts, and unexpected but impressive rhythmic changes is left out in favor of a slow five note motif whose most notable moment of melodic intrigue is in the appearance of an augmented fourth near the solo’s end. Much of the rest of the song unfolds in a steady pattern of I-vi-iii-IV, with the occasional V thrown in almost like a pickup chord at the start of second half of the chorus (Any way you twist it / always been a misfit / blowin’ kisses with a middle finger flick). While mildly less used than the ubiquitous I-IV-V-I, a chord progression un-ornamented beyond its necessary tones does not a head turning melody make and a five beat hook made up of only two notes doesn’t exactly encourage the full color of the underlying harmony.
“Boring” is striving to bring a few minutes of uplifting solidarity to the standouts of the world, which is an applaudable objective to be sure. All the same, apart from the marketable irony in exuding excitement over a song with such a title, the collectively conventional character of “Boring” only seems to highlight a lack of concentrated motivation from two musicians who have otherwise shown they are both capable of much more than the unfortunately accurate namesake of this single.
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