Music Notes: Sam Phillips, Cruel Inventions

November 19, 2008

Sam Phillips: Cruel Inventions

Cruel Inventions finds Sam exploring an experimental, adventurous sound combined with focused, direct lyrics. Besides “love and loss” Sam delves into socially conscious subject matter with abstract, evocative imagery. It’s a progression from the previous Indescribable Wow.


5 stars = 5 stars

Supported by reverb-heavy percussion and distorted guitar, the verses lists optimistic phrases while the chorus contains one line: “I’d be lying” – direct and effective. The bridge is backed by strings, which return weeping in the last verse. Stunning stuff, and an improvement on the first album from the opening track.

Go Down

4 stars = 4 stars

Take Flame from the first album with lyrics documenting the corrosive values of modernity: “death for profit,” “silence of money.” The answer proposed lies within ourselves and human connection. As with the first track, the chorus contains just one phrase: “go down.” Also features a frentic acoustic guitar solo contributed by Elvis Costello.

Cruel Inventions

5 stars = 5 stars

The modern world kills people’s dreams through “elevators with music like magazines.” The pulsing guitar line evokes a spinning wheel in a machine, relentlessly churning out product. The second verse starts with the “beat generation” selling out by getting on the “morning train,” set Strawberry Fields Forever mellotron. The song poses the worthwhile question of what we lose through relentless technological progress.

Standing Still

3 stars = 3 stars

A litany of abstract dream imagery, a bit wayward compared to the preceding directness. There are some great layers of guitar and background vocals, however.

Tripping Over Gravity

3 stars = 3 stars

Almost nonsense lyrics chosen more for their sound than meaning, documenting alienating aspects of modern society: “neon lights flashing rights on concrete lace.” My favorite aspect is the interval-leaping bass providing a counter melody for the rather relentlessly horizontal nature of this slightly overlong song.

Now I Can’t Find The Door

3 stars = 3 stars

The twangy country guitar and beat, plus drums saved for the chorus, is reminiscent of the previous album. The bridge is a tad awkward. Well, the outro resembles the Smiths.

Private Storm

2 stars = 2 stars

Not a fan of this track, although the 6/8 time and meandering bass are rather Beatle-y. The best part is the chorus of Sam vocals that cascade in near the halfway point.

Raised On Promises

3 stars = 3 stars

Boy, that’s a lot of reverb on one hand clap. Otherwise, an upbeat and straight ahead pop rock tune.

Hole In Time

3 stars = 3 stars

A Herb Alpert or Burt Bacharach trumpet.

Where The Colors Don’t Go

5 stars = 5 stars

A perfect album closer, with obvious musical influences – in particular a chirpy Penny Lane trumpet. The colors could be the literal one of a rainbow but also a hint of a segregation past. The homogenization of a globalized world is mentioned with “one shopping bag and restaurant.” A great preview of the excellent subsequent album, Martinis And Bikinis.

Intra-Album-Rank-O-Rama: 3.6

Next Album: Martinis And Bikinis
Previous Album: The Indescribable Wow

iTunes Store Link: Cruel Inventions – Sam Phillips