I’m a sucker for lyrics, courtesy of my being a sucker for poetry. That’s one reason, I guess, the latest recording from Gunboat Diplomats, “Original Sin”, is still stuck in my head. GD, as I wrote in an earlier article, aren’t your typical gig group. They focus on recording, although members of the group do gigs on their own. When I tag one of them, it’s always first name ‘Gunboat’ followed by the musician’s real last name. “Original Sin” is part of their forthcoming album Manifest Destiny. You’re probably wondering why their latest lyrics stuck in my head.
The concept of original sin is probably known by every Christian. The concept assumes you are born into sin, partly because of that apple Adam chomped, enticed by Eve in the Garden of Eden. I once got into a dustup over this matter with a teacher at one of my daughter’s schools. I’m sure she remembers that convo and I will long remember it. Having held a number of infants in my arms, I can assure you no baby is born with sin in his or her heart. But that’s another debate and proselytizing is far, I think, from these musicians’ minds with this song.
The Gunboat Diplomats take on the iconic topic in their new song with lines like these:
“When your time is up/
and your chips are down,/
you’ll wear your bad mistakes/
like a phony crown.”
Contrast lyrics like that with lyrics from most popular songs you hear on mainstream radio. Quite the switch from pickup trucks, booty (the kind you shake when you dance, not the pirates’ loot), and all manner of graphic lust. The strongest aspect of “Original Sin” is, in my opinion, those lyrics. The beat is, in the group’s self-description, “a bastardized bossa nova…”
The primary vocalist ventures close to spoken word in his delivery, staying in a limited octave range in the beginning with additional vocalists’ harmonies coming later. The male vocalist dominates, and his approach and delivery remind me of the timbre in the voice of Tom Waits, a musician I’m pretty wild about.
The Gunboat Diplomats’ “Original Sin” is one of those songs I can imagine as part of the sound track in a film exploring the human condition’s basic conflict—evil versus good within you.
You can read about the album, and listen to songs, at the Gunboat Diplomats’ official Web page. The group also has a page on Facebook. You will definitely be entertained by self-deprecating humor and news about their efforts.
I’ll be looking forward to hearing forthcoming songs from this group as I attempt to quash the ear bug from that bossa nova beat carrying lyrics like, “We all dance in the fire of original sin.” Proceed with caution, though. The song comes off in a darkly satiric vein that may escape you on first listen. As Gunboat Smith said of the new song in an email:
“[I]t basically revels (and wallows) in inescapable guilt, shame and regret…so it’s a
real pick-me-up, whistle as you stroll along kind of tune!”
You can learn more about the traditional concept of original sin too. Maybe thinking about such matters in this day and age, considering the lack of wisdoms (deliberately plural) acquired after thousands and thousands of years of humans on this Earth, can lead to a bit of enlightenment (no pun intended).
I like musical works that tackle the hard questions. Gunboat Diplomats will do that every time.
(Kay B. Day/June 20, 2018)