The single “And the Walls Have Ears” is best described as something Tom Waits-esque, and Tom Waits-esque is not an adjective used all that much when it comes to describing music. Waits is a unique artist, with a gravelly voice and a novelist’s eye for saturating his lyrics with vividly cinematic word pictures. Therefore, to come across an act with a sound like Captain Gravitone and the String Theory Orchestra, is surprising – to say the least.
This song kicks off with an arrangement that includes both street band brass horns and gypsy violin. It sounds like something out of an old European pub, somehow precisely persevered throughout decades of time, remaining surprisingly unchanged. Taken from the album A Universe Parallel To Our Own, the track features a sandpaper smooth (meaning not smooth at all) vocal. Hence, the Waits comparison.
About midway through, there’s an electric guitar solo, the first clue that this is not actually a time warped folk song. This six-string inclusion is then followed first by a flute solo (yes, you read that right), and then a banjo solo. If you can name a recent pop hit featuring all three of these elements (electric guitar, flute and banjo solo) you most certainly heard it wrong; they just don’t (often) make ‘em like this anymore.
Few sayings express paranoia better than, “The walls have ears.” Such sentiments recall the Cold War era Soviet Union where, indeed, the walls likely had ears. The ideas for the George Orwell government gone awry book 1984 didn’t just come out of thin air; Orwell was certainly worried about the state’s intrusion upon personal privacy.
Had this song been backed by moody synthesizers and ominous electric guitars, it would cause immediate worries for most any listener. However, the song’s admittedly theatrical lead vocal, placed over old world instrumentation, makes it into something far less worrisome. Instead, this song’s lyric and arrangement treat paranoia in a far more playful manner. It’s a little like a cartoon response to the issue, instead of a strongly socio-political reaction of some kind.
The good captain and band are from Mankato, MN, the fifth largest city in Minnesota, and consist of six members, including a banjoist. They describe their music as the fusion of jazz, blues, rock and world music. It’s all of these, and none of these, at the same time. Yes, you can hear the influence these various styles have had upon Captain Gravitone & the String Theory Orchestra sonic development, but this song is not jazz, not blues, pre-rock (more than rock) and closest of all to world music. However, even with the world music relationship, it’s more otherworldly than traditional world music.
It’s not clear exactly which walls have ears these days. That all depends upon your political perspective and whom you choose to believe. With that said, though, if walls have any taste in music, one must believe these walls dig Captain Gravitone & the String Theory Orchestra. Let’s hope, though, that more than just wall ears discover this song. It’s unique, colorful, playful and entertaining. It may not get played on the radio, but it certainly deserves the attention of discerning listeners.