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Sean Spada's "The Wild Ride" is a yacht-rock-run-aground piano-based psych-rock operetta





Sean Spada's "The Wild Ride" is a yacht-rock-run-aground piano-based psych-rock operetta

photo by Tasha Lutek

The piano isn’t exactly the coolest instrument in the public imagination these days and it hasn't been for a good while which yeah of course there’s plenty of cool piano music out there but not like back in the day like say 19th-century Europe up to its armpits in mad genius sex-crazed pianist-composers roaming the continent like the polonaise-playing rock stars of their day…

…wantonly indulging in sex, drugs, and Rachmaninoff and not even the most shameful STD of the century could stop Byronic fops like Robert "Mad Bob" Schumann from writing some truly sick tunes (wordplay!) made only sicker by the syphilis-induced “hallucinations and horrors and psychological conflicts reflected in [their’] music” this according to an article entitled “Syphilis’ Impact on Late Works of Classical Music Composers” published in the July 2021 issue of International Journal of Urologic History which makes for great bathroom reading...YEAH I JUST WENT THERE SO F*CKING WHAT!

…and heck even well into the 20th century the piano was still pretty damn hip, take for instance the early-century rise of stride, ragtime, and boogie-woogie piano styles or the decades-long dominance of Tin Pan Alley which birthed the modern day hit parade by selling millions of copies of piano-based sheet music to the All-American masses ultimately displaced by the piano-pounding R&B shouters and early rock ’n’ rollers of the mid-20th-century…

…but this all changed somewhere between then and now and personally I'm inclined to hold Giorgio Moroder and Peter Criss of KISS responsible cuz in the first case when the Italian synth wizard teamed up with disco queen Donna Summer for “I Feel Love” in 1977 the synthesizer was transformed overnight—once the primary province of pretentious prog rock profligacy—into a booty-shaking, floor-filling miracle machine and why would anyone wanna play a dumb ol’ piano ever again…

…meanwhile a year earlier the fire breathing, blood spewing, all-night partiers known as KISS scored their first top ten hit with a piano-driven ballad called “Beth” featuring the band's raspy-voiced, pussy-faced drummer apologizing (apologizing!) to his titular lady friend for staying out too late rockin' out with the boys and at precisely this moment the piano became the antithesis of cool… 

…and don’t even get me started on Billy Joel’s “Piano Man” (an easy target, I realize, but still!) with its self-regarding, pseudo-Dylanesque portrait of a “piano man” who despite being lucky enough to be gainfully employed at a local watering hole and to be much loved by its regular clientele (“it's me they've been comin' to see”) nonetheless looks down his nose at all the pathetic, self-deluded saps (“they're sharing a drink they call loneliness”) who hang out at the piano bar

…but never mind Billy Joel or Peter Criss or Donna Summer because this article is about SEAN SPADA (obviously!) and SEAN SPADA is the real deal, a hard-working, consummate-pro piano everyman who would never dream of insultingly patronizing the sad sacks at the bar because clearly he identifies with and counts himself among the sad sacks at the bar (“the world is too much, I’m not enough”) facing down life’s dead-ends and cul-de-sacs with steely resolve, fatalistic wit, and a clutch of jazz-laced seven- and nine-chords on his new album The Wild Ride

…a record that’s not lacking for Leonard Cohen/Tom Waits type vibes like when Sean wonders aloud “am I lost? / am I found?” before conceding that “sometimes I just prefer to be / spaaaaacing oooout” which is a theme explored at length on numbers like “Spacing Out, Pt. 1” and “Spacing Out, Pt,. 2,” songs that are fittingly full of stereo-panned mindfuckery (theremins and vocoders and vibraslaps, oh my!) so pass the bong, yo…

…but it’s “Doppelgänger Jungle” that’s the biggest head trip of all, a six-and-a-half-minute epic tale of “shadow selves escaping from my dreams” glanced by our narrator on every other street corner, a paranoic but pretty rad fantasy matched to a soundtrack of planetarium-ready percolating synths and a whole entire part that sounds like a Steely Dan/ELO/Boz Skaggs mashup and finally an extended breakdown coda section with “breakdown” being the operative word that slowly-but-surely builds back up to a swirling vortex of sound before trailing off again with some airy vocal harmonies floating off into the ether like a puff of fog machine smoke in the corner of a run down piano bar…

…so needless to say it’s a wild ride akin to “Pablo Cruise in purgatory” (pull quote!) or if you prefer a cross "between Randy Newman and Huey Lewis" but either way it's a ride that never flies off the rails thanks to the ever-present guard rails of Sean’s sensitive, skillful piano playing to the point where I’m moved to proclaim The Wild Ride the world’s first psychedelic piano lounge yacht-rock-run-aground rock operetta, a character study of a piano man who may be “Set Up To Self Destruct” but who’s nonetheless “Getting on the Highway” with predictable results perhaps but all the more stirring for seeing it coming...

…so in closing we recommend you pour yourself a double on the rocks and don’t forget the swizzle stick (because…stirring!) before dropping the digital needle on Sean Spada’s The Wild Ride and when he observes in the album-opening “When You’re Crazy” that “the only sane way to truly be yourself” is to embrace your own craziness you'll no doubt slowly and sagely nod your head and raise your glass to toast the bittersweet poignancy of it all. (Jason Lee)

Published: October 17, 2022 |

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