Mikey Wax – Constant Motion (2011)

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The best pop songs are about more than their surface allures — the hook, the voice, maybe the lyric. The best pop songs are bound up both in simplicity and mystery, bringing you over a ridge to these stunning emotional vistas, even as you are still trying to get the seatbelt secured.

Mikey Wax’s forthcoming Constant Motion, a soulful pop-rock effort, is filled with such things: On the swirling “Marion,” for instance, he mourns a time “before the world had lost her way,” but the route back to a long-gone love isn’t so easily found: “We’re separated,” Wax finally concludes, “by the present and the past.” Then there’s “No Regrets.” Boasting a smartly swinging groove, the track transforms a shopworn initial theme — “let’s love with no regrets” — with a lyric (and a vocal performance) that explores not just the possibilities, but also the risks, the traps. “If I give love,” Wax finally admits, “I want it back.”

Wax, and this is where Constant Motion gets its momentum, dilates into these moments of specificity, those times when everything becomes clear. You have “How It Feels,” with a memorably quirky, loose-lugnut rhythm, where Wax tries to come to terms with the long wait between screwing up and getting back together. Even “Fall For You,” running counter-clockwise to its title, is no love song; instead, it’s a folky lament about the time spent endlessly pining for someone who couldn’t give a damn.

Yet, and this is interesting, there are just as many moments redemption, of true embrace. Wax won’t give into the coldness that threatens to blow through every heartbreak. I loved the music, but I loved its core sensibility even more: There’s his central character in the John Mayer-ish opener “Counting On You” who, even swinging almost completely control, can’t help but try to take it all in. “Long Lost Dream,” a burst of pop music without any of the era’s knowing winks, simply lets sun in from every conceivable angle: “I want to believe,” Wax sings, in a swirling Oz-like moment of black and white-to-colorized charm.

On the closing “You Tell Me When,” a plucky piece of Appalachia-meets-Jason Mraz songcraft, Wax’s protagonist tries at playing it cool, but he can’t help but say what he feels: “You tell me when, and I’ll meet you there.”

Wax is exploring love’s limits on Constant Motion, owning up to the way it fails us, but yet he keeps running toward it — like a moth to the flame. In this way, I suppose, Wax is no different than you or me, except of course for the hooks, the voice and, yeah, the lyrics.

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Mikey Wax’s forthcoming Constant Motion, produced by Warren Huart (Aerosmith, James Blunt) and available on Sept. 20, can be pre-ordered at his Web site.

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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