Simple Kid, a 25-year-old former Dubliner now living in London, is currently fighting a ridiculous American marketing plan that includes stickering his debut album, SK1, with a bullshit claim akin to "Simple Kid is the postmodern Bob Dylan." I can't tell you how many times I've asked friends if they've heard the record--which I found instantly likable--and their responses have been to roll their eyes and blahbity-blah-blah about "Oh yeah, the 'new Bob Dylan.'" (And when, exactly, did jazz hands become the new air quotes? Am I the only one who's noticed that?) Not one of these friends, of course, has actually listened to SK1, which is much broader in scope than a simple next-generation Dylan clone, so their prejudice is met with some of my own eye rolling, all the way into my back pockets.
Either way, though, it's not going to affect Simple Kid--more personally known as Ciaran McFeely--who sums up his feelings about people's opinions clearly in "Hello," the first track on SK1: "If you're real/Say what you feel/If you're fake jump in a lake/Say hello/'Cause we all know the wind's gonna blow." He follows that thought with another astute, yet simple, line: "If it's new/That is so cool/If it's fame/That is so lame." Here's a guy, raised on a diet of Bowie, Zeppelin, PiL, and Sonic Youth, who knows his shit from the hipster shine on. "People can be easily led," McFeely says over the phone in explanation.
Going from Bowie to Zeppelin to PiL to Sonic Youth is a pretty broad list of references, which McFeely attributes to his upbringing. "I had a lot of older brothers," he says with a laugh, "who turned me on to all these records while I was listening to the newer stuff like Public Enemy." When I comment that a lot of singer/songwriters cite older brothers when it comes to influencing the nucleus of the younger siblings' careers, his answer, like much of the lyrics he writes, is funny and deadpan: "There should be some kind of award handed out yearly paying tribute to the 'older brother with the best influence on a new artist or band.'"
When it comes to learning about his musical heroes, though, McFeely says he never reads rock biographies, because he'd rather think of his heroes as he imagines them without knowing a fact that might ruin his perceptions. "I just don't want to get involved in that," he says. "It's too much to have to deal with."
Despite the packaging misstep for SK1, a couple bars of harmonica and an acoustic strum do not make for a Bob Dylan rip-off, especially when they're followed by a swirl of electronic strings, beats, and vocal samples with lyrics like those of "Truck On," which could either be about overblown comeback tours, or they tell of a sad, personal sense of despair and loneliness. "The Average Man" is a smart, statistic-filled cheer for the man on the street who works nearly every damn day of the year just so he can take a two-week holiday. It's a jangling tune with an inquiring yet brotherly chorus ("What are we looking for, Average Man?") and detailed observations ("Spends 20 pounds each week on drinking and cigarettes/But the man says he will give up one day/He is unhappy with his general appearance/And will spend over 3,000 hours shaving in front of the mirror/He has a face but he sometimes dreams of a better one"), ending with an anthemic, fist-raising, "Go, go, the Average Man!"
Far from an average musician, McFeely started out an ideal of performing, beginning with formal training on the drums at age 10. "I soon discovered that the girls were more interested in singers than the rest of the band," he says, again showing the deadpan humor. I ask him if his dream has come to life and if he's constantly mobbed by gorgeous gals. "No," he says with a twinge of dejection in his voice, "I've become like the man in my song 'The Average Man,' because I attract the bespectacled, sort of librarian type. And I guess to the world, the song is a good expression of what I'm actually like."
As for his other songs, "Kids Don't Care" is one of SK1's most beautiful, lamenting empty-headedness over knowledge; and "Breakups/Breakdowns" crunches and tears like a buzz saw, unexpectedly turns sweet, then goes all psychedelic before ending by blending all of the above. The versatility of songwriting, as well as the sentiment and humor flowing through every song, sets McFeely on his own course. Postmodern Bob Dylan, for a new generation though? No way.