A good song for bad times, “S.O.S” by Glorious Sons

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Somehow, “S.O.S” by Glorious Sons did not receive enough attention upon its release in 2017. If it had, the song might have singlehandedly squashed the “Is rock dead?” debate that has popped up every few months since 2000 or so. The Canadian band sounds distinctly American (as other outlets have pointed out, such as the Loyola Phoenix), and not just in terms of their soundscape. The feel, the vibe that emanates from their no topic is taboo approach to singing about life, feels like the kind of freedom America is said to symbolize.

Glorious Sons “S.O.S” – – making art out of personal tragedy

Maybe the other aspect that makes “S.O.S” sound so American is that its theme seems ripped from American headlines from 2007 or so to the present. Financial struggle, opioid addiction, mental collapse, all sound like issues that impacted Americans during the recession.

The tone of the song indicates that the narrator knows these are not good things to have happen to a person. But happen they did, and now what? Deal with them in song, that’s what.

Often, the best songs, or at least the most memorable songs have a narrative that listeners can follow. Which is not to say that songs with nonsense lyrics are never popular, or memorable. But there is no story that audiences can easily imagine. Further, songs that have basis in reality tend to hold up to scrutiny. And that is exactly what happens in “S.O.S” that does not happen with nonsense lyrics.

For example, the following is the chorus to “S.O.S”: “Yeah, they sent the taxman/I lost my job and/you got hooked on oxycodone/they shut the lights off/they took the car and/I bought a sawed off shotgun.”

Yes, the SOS of the title both refers to the modified gun, and to the cry for help.

The lines are repeated, so that there is an anthem-like feel to the words as lead singer Brett Emmons is joined by the musicians in singing the chorus. Listening to the song, it takes little to imagine a crowd of people, red cups in hand, singing this song loudly, especially the chorus, screaming the parts that relate to them directly. This is the (not-so) Great American Story set to music.

But there is more to “S.O.S.” than a litany of problems. The verses, too, indicate problems that Americans have. The song opens with “Mother, I don’t wanna take my medicine/24 years in the gutter again/I’m losing it.”

There is also social critique, and a touch of darkness. “I’d rather be crazy than to take these pills/I’m tired of being okay against my will/I’m losing it/I’m losing it.”

But just when some listeners might think that the narrative is only about prescription drugs, the critique goes further and the darkness creeps in: “Ain’t a thing in this world that I’m gonna miss/It’s all fake smiles and leather jackets.”

The knack for rhyme that almost doesn’t make it is one of the more subtle features of “S.O.S.” that make it catchy. The way “and” is used in the chorus is meaningful and sounds almost like the vowel sound in “yeah.” Every element of the song forces listeners to reckon with what is being sung.

“S.O.S.” is not by and large a “happy,” song, but it is meaningful. Its uncomfortable truths are unavoidable. Even if the lyrics do not apply fully to one listener, that listener knows that it applies to his or her friends, or people who live down the block. That is part of the appeal of this song – – it reflects life. The chopping, buzzing and stomping rock sound only adds to what makes audiences easily recall what this song is about.

“S.O.S.” can be found on Glorious Sons’ second album, “Young Beauties and Fools.” The band has won Group of the Year and Rock Group of the Year awards from SiriusXM Indie Awards during Canada Week in 2015. In 2018, Glorious Sons won a Juno Award for Rock Album of the Year.

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Dodie Miller-Gould is a native of Fort Wayne, Indiana who lives in New York City where she studies creative nonfiction at Columbia University. She has BA and MA degrees in English from Indiana University-Purdue University, Fort Wayne, and an MFA in Fiction from Minnesota State University, Mankato. Her research interests include popular music and culture, 1920s jazz, and blues, confessional poetry, and the rhetoric of fiction. She has presented at numerous conferences in rhetoric and composition, and creative writing. Her creative works have appeared in Tenth Muse, Apostrophe, The Flying Island, Scavenger's Newsletter and elsewhere. She has won university-based awards for creative work and literary criticism.

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