The practice of crafting and releasing albums of music seems to be a dying art at least among the artists who produce music that I most enjoy. I cannot say that I blame them considering the current culture which we live in. It doesn’t seem to highly value critical thinking nor long attention spans so expecting the average listener to sit down and listen to a whole album in order much less all at once is crazy I. So to gain attention and have your work heard it needs to be released in smaller bite sized chunks or at least that what seems to be the growing trend. I don’t necessarily have a problem with this I just simply miss the way an album can weave a narrative and actually express what the artist is trying to say. This can be done in one song or a few songs of course but for me it just isn’t quite the same.
Recently I have come across an album that does just what I am speaking about. It presents an engaging storyline and a truly inspiring message. The album “Fear is the Cage. Love is the Key.” by Jess Novak takes you on an excursion across the treacherous landscape that is life. While love certainly is an overarching theme of the album if that is all you take away you are actually only discovering the tip of the iceberg. It is also about growing up and realizing that becoming an adult was not anything like you thought.
The album opens up with “Words” which speaks of a relationship where the only thing that is offered is lip service and broken promises. This song has a fierce energy and hits hard right from the get go with the lyrics “drape the girls around your shoulder, wonder I’ve grown colder, is it really such a mystery…” There is no holding back here and it certainly sets the tone for the first half of this double album.
In “Come Back Around” we hear the words “I look in the mirror every day, but I avoid my own gaze” it speaks of a desire for a relationship to begin again but ultimately realizing that it won’t and that in the end it is probably for the best. It may seem odd to say this but I think this marks the first turning point on the record; while there is still quite a ride ahead I think it is at this point that it is discovered in order to find love you must first learn to love yourself. Before you can do that you have to learn what that actually means.
“Ball of Clichés” is a very complex track even more so than the rest of the songs so far I am unsure if I am fully grasping its meaning as there is just so much to unpack here. The album up to this point seems to be speaking about relationships in various capacities but the last two songs on this album are not only different in tone but also in theme. They speak of looking inside and coming to a realization of your flaws and striving to become better. In the beginning with the line “I’m the one thing I swore I would never be, I’m afraid…” This is something we all undergo; a point in which we come to a realization of our flaws and gain a desire to overcome them. There is plea to “help me find my way… would you help me find my way.”
The songs in this second part of the album speak of a hope for love and show that there is genuinely an evolution between the two halves of the album. This is readily apparent in the song “Lucienne” which has some exceptionally poetic lyrics “you got me more than a friend, I will hold you till the end, till I break I will bend oh Lucienne.” This song reminded me of 1970’s tunes by the likes Abba or Fleetwood Mac it just has a really classic kind of sound that I especially much enjoyed.
I have been called naïve for thinking this but despite how so many have calculated out love and talked about it purely in a scientific matter I still believe there is magic, even an otherworldly quality to love. You can try and imagine what it is like to truly be in love to be with someone who loves you for who you are, who builds you up and vice versa. Once you actually find a relationship like this though you realize that it is far better than you ever could have imagined. That is what I gleaned from listening to “Then I Fell in Love”.
On the surface “The Cage” is a well written break-up song but truthfully its importance goes far beyond that. It is a powerful anthem that summarizes the lessons learned throughout the album. It paints a picture of someone who knows what they want and is willing to go after it. It marks the beginning of the journey towards becoming your best self and looking for someone else who wants to do the same. We must all learn to let go of our insecurities, doubts and not let fear drive us. If we can learn to let love in it will affect us in ways we never thought possible. That was the essence of this track and the album as a whole. I was impressed how this message was also reflected in the albums artwork. I originally thought the reason the darker fear portion of the cover was more vast was to send a particular message. I was able to track down the entire image and discovered that wasn’t the case at all. Just as with the songs in the album the artwork presents very much a yin and yang situation; an overall balance between the two halves of this album. This quite possibly being a way of saying that the light can’t exist without the darkness; I was glad to discover this hidden gem.
Listening to this album many times over this past week was a cathartic experience; it takes you on such an emotional sojourn through the various stages of grief that everyone faces as they seek to find love. It caused me to reflect on and process some of my own life lessons learned and reminded me of how far I have come in my own life.
Click here to learn more about Jess Novak and check out her work.