Don't Kill the Magic
When a new band explodes onto the scene with a surprisingly positive track, I'm always instantly curious about what the rest of the songs are like. Sometimes one great song proves to be an outlier, a fluke that's not really representative of a group's overall worldview. But sometimes it truly is one gem among many.
I'm happy to report that it's mostly the latter case when it comes to the Canadian fusion act Magic!, a pop-leaning quartet that sounds like a gene-splicing experiment involving The Police and Bruno Mars—with hints of the Middle East and a strand or two of Bob Marley DNA threaded throughout. Magic! has enjoyed a multi-week run atop Billboard's Hot 100 singles chart with the track in question, called "Rude," which really is anything but. And it turns out that lead singer Nasri Atweh has more good (and nicely countercultural) insights to dispense elsewhere on the 11 tracks of his band's debut.
Oh, you want to know why it's only mostly a gem among many? Well, beyond a few obvious lyrical glitches, there's a stray version of one song on this disc floating around that ... well, just keep reading.
"Rude" kicks things off with the story of a guy who's struggling to deal with the titular response his would-be father-in-law gives when asked for his daughter's hand in marriage. Never mind that our hero has promised lifelong faithfulness ("Can I have your daughter for the rest of my life?"); he's left to wonder why this hardhearted dad "gotta be so rude" in harshly denying his request ("You say I'll never get your blessing 'til the day I die"). The couple marries anyway, yet it's a remarkably old-fashioned song, really, to even hint at the idea of asking for a father's matrimonial blessing in our anything-goes, tradition-torpedoing culture.
Album closer "How Do You Want to Be Remembered" pulls no punches in addressing that question: "How do you want to be remembered?/As a sinner or a saint, as a hero or a villain?/Think about the steps you take/How do you want to be remembered/When they're standing at your grave?/On your tombstone, what is written?" It challenges parents, "How do you want to be remembered/When your children come ... /And they need some inspiration?" And the song even alludes to God's own assessment of our lives after we die: "Think about the steps you take/'Cause on the day when you face judgment/You better have your story straight/Were you a good friend and a husband/To the wife who gives you love, love, love?"
"Paradise" is a lighthearted song about a man who falls in love with a "mermaid castaway." But as he nearly drowns pursuing her, we hear, "He prayed unto his Father/As his lungs filled up with water." "One Woman One Man" describes a flawed would-be partner ("I am a sinner, as cold as the winter/She is the sun, she is the queen of love") wishing he could be the virtuous man the woman he loves longs for ("One woman, one man/That's all she asks/No other demands") even though he's already failed her ("I am a loser, I only confuse her/ ... Lord, I wish it wasn't so"). Conversely, "Little Girl Big World" chastises a narcissistic young woman for being self-centered ("If I was your father, I would lock you up inside of your room/Until you figure out how to think of someone but you"). "Mama Didn't Raise No Fool" is a surprisingly complex song in which a loving-but-stern mother admonishes her love-phobic son to give real romance a chance.
"Let Your Hair Down" romantically states, "There's nothing better than my beautiful woman," and admits that while the couple's relationship isn't perfect, commitment is a given ("Even though/It's not always heaven, we still fly together"). The song also says there's more to love than just its physical aspects ("To me you are more than just skin and bones/You are elegance and freedom and everything I know"). Similarly, "No Way No" vows, "Will I ever be too far away when you feel alone? (No way, no)/Will I ever back down my sword to protect our home? (No way, no)/Will I ever spend a day not telling you you're beautiful? (No way, no)."
The title track's protagonist vows to make whatever changes are necessary to restore a relationship, as does a man on "No Evil." Recalling his love's beauty, he says, "If there's a chance to be with you, I promise/That I will speak no evil/And I will see no darkness/And I will only hear your voice/'Til the demons go back to where they belong." He also asks, "Can you take me somewhere where the devil cannot find us?" "Stupid Me" finds a man lobbing the "stupid" label at a woman who rejects him before realizing he's the one who's not so wise for pursuing a woman who treats him so badly.
Unfortunately, this is the song with another official version that ...
... substitutes the exclamations of "stupid you" with "f--- you." Both versions of the song reveal this sensual side of things too: "Stupid me, I don't know how to slow down/Felt your touch and now I want it all now."
On "Don't Kill the Magic," we hear this similarly suggestive thought: "Sleep on your bed (I'll be the mattress)." And the lovelorn, rejected man on "No Evil" is apparently medicating his broken heart with casual one-night stands: "Woke up this morning to another perfect stranger." (That said, he doesn't glorify these anonymous trysts, admitting he "Jumped into the shower to wash off the situation/I can't tell the difference if I'm crying or it's raining.")
The way any given band or musician looks at reality—their worldview—gets communicated in the words and ideas they choose for their songs. And there were a lot of words on Don't Kill the Magic that made me think, These guys have been influenced spiritually a time or two somewhere along the way. Songwriters don't just pick sinner, saint, prayed, heaven, demons, devil and judgment out of a rhyming hat. Indeed, born in Canada, Nasri Atweh does reportedly come from a Christian family with Palestinian roots.
Still, in a recent interview with Rolling Stone, he said simply of his band's songs, "We just talk about love." And sometimes he picks obscene words out of that hat rather than spiritual ones to do so.
It's beyond me why. Nasri's conception of love extends so far beyond a smoldering one-night stand ("No Evil" critiques that lifestyle), even encompassing at times a God-reflecting permanence, faithfulness and commitment. And then he so carelessly throws in something so, yes, rude.