Band: Super 8
Album: Head Sounds
Release Date: 27 March 2020
Label: Subjangle Records
What can one say about Super 8 that hasn’t already been said before? Quite a lot really and that’s a damn shame. The brainchild of multi instrumentalist/songwriter Paul ‘Trip’ Ryan, this one man operation has been pulling up under-appreciated pods of pure pop for a number of years now. Ridiculously prolific – he released THREE albums in 2018 alone – Trip has just returned from a health related hiatus to deliver his first album of (mainly) original material since arguably his strongest collection of tunes, Hi Lo.
As with much of Super 8’s prodigious output, sometimes you have to crack the rock to find the gems but they are certainly there in abundance on the very personal Head Sounds.
The eleven track album kicks off with Dragonfly, which opens like Pink Floyd’s ‘Dark Side…” ends; an airy but undeniable micro-essay on mortality and an exhortation which sets the tone for the rest of the journey. The honeyed tones of Anthony Hopkins cut through the reverie, urging us to dance and sing as if today was our last. Concurrent themes of ephemerality and commercial disillusion are woven through this album but it’s far from being a work of aphotic despondency. BoNES positively bops into life with a pot stew of African guitar licks and rhythms with lyrics, crackling with self-effacing wit. ‘The Devil is in the detail, shame there’s nothing left in the retail’. Following the padkos of BoNES, Love Like Ours comes in like a meat and two veg main course of ’60s pop motifs. Turtles, Lovin’ Spoonful with a side of BMX Bandits. If that’s your bag, jump in. It’s all there. Classic Super 8 fare. The album takes a slightly darker turn with the next track, Sweet Norah. A narcoleptic start and a memorable refrain make this minor key trip one of the album’s stand out tracks. Ryan’s trademark jauntiness returns on Millionaire; a typically melodic, sonic instruction pamphlet on the craft of songwriting which contains some of the record’s best lines.
After a promising five song start, the needle hits the red and we have to pull in. A functional but needless cover of the Beatles Across The Universe is followed by the album’s weakest tune, I Just Wanna Be Me; another meditation on the crushing frustrations felt by those struggling to get a toehold in this most unforgiving of businesses. Where Millionaire tackled the same subject, coated with Trip’s characteristic optimism and a large dollop of acerbic drollery, this one comes across as huffy and sour, not traits I’d generally associate with the boundlessly resilient Ryan.
Thankfully, the attitude-filled drive of Be Bop A Lula arrives to pull us back on track. Mid-60s era Dylan backed by the Band and sounding pissed off. This is more like it. Might actually be my favourite track on the entire album. From Blonde on Blonde, we’re off to the Nashville Skyline next for Star Crossed Lover, a ramshackle, acoustic grower which improves with each new listen.
Brian Wilson’s In My Room comes next and like the earlier Beatles cover, at first glance appears extraneous but Ryan wears his musical debt to the Beach Boys’ leader, and his immersive style of work, like a badge of honour. And just when you think that it’s another ‘by the numbers’ tribute, the song takes off in the most welcome way. Unbridled and unleashed, Ryan lets slip the reins. With a minute left on the clock, he sounds the charge and over the top he goes, Rolling Thunder style.
Trip says adieu to his friends and his fans, in the final track, ‘Keep the Homefires Burning’; a Peppery song which betrays his hopes and fears as he enters his own dark night of the (Rubber) Soul.
And that’s ‘Head Sounds’. Is it Trip’s best work? I’m not sure. Remove the Beatles cover and replace ‘I Just Wanna Be Me’ with ‘Timebomb’, last year’s excellent collaboration with US power pop vocalist, Lisa Mychols and it would go from a maybe to a definitive yes from me. But that’s what makes him an artist worth returning to. It’s his vision, his opinion, the sounds of his head. And if I could press a button and make one unsung musician a household name, he’d be pretty close to the top of my list.
In a perfect world, Paul Ryan would get the breaks and reap his rewards. But it’s not and he probably won’t, though for the price of a coffee and a sandwich you could do a lot worse than tilt at windmills with a guy who ‘started off with nothing and still has much of it left’.