There’s just so many things on a given day that I do not want to do. Work. Pay bills. Mow the lawn. Shower. I’ll go out on a limb here and guess that’s true for you, too. Mostly because Life gives not one iota’s shit about what we’d rather be doing. Life getting in the way of Living. But we do the stuff anyway, usually because not doing it ends up making things worse. And for a lot longer. But also because, as William James said, “The man who has daily inured himself to habits of concentrated attention, energetic volition, and self-denial in unnecessary things… will stand like a tower when everything rocks around him, and when his softer fellow-mortals are winnowed like chaff in the blast.”
We intuitively know that doing what sucks is an investment in ourselves and our futures, but just like insurance it can be really hard to feel good about forking over the dough right now in case of the real but exceedingly slim possibility that one day a rogue oak will break from its tree-pack to smash across the hood of your sweet Mazda 3. We need more than that ephemeral sense of security against the maybe shitty day. We need a motivator.
Thank god for High Spirits.
In case you’ve not been paying attention, Chris Black is a guy who views those “unnecessary things” as fundamentally necessary, erasing the line between want to and have to, concentrating his attention on an incomparably energetic volition that has yielded among the most impressive catalogs in heavy music’s last couple decades. Each of his many projects is at once unique and instantly recognizable as a Chris Black product, and High Spirits is the outlet for his unabashed love of pure rock and roll. He’s not quite old enough to have lived the 501’s-and-white-high-tops-and-cruising-Main-in-Mom’s-dented-red-Citation heavy rock that launched the 80s, but he bleeds it somehow. So much more than a fond nod to a bygone era, High Spirits is nonetheless genuine nostalgia for a time in life when the most important things ever were fun and friends and fuck yeah! and when, even if Life or Love managed to slow the ascent, a simple night out with your best pals had the power to reinvigorate an unfettered optimism.
High Spirits’ third LP, Motivator, captures all of that in one compact headbanging, fist-pumping, smile-inducing package. There’s an awful lot of energy and emotion in the album art alone and it runs through every piece, from high energy vintage metal riffs and rhythm to uplifting melodies and lyrics to soulfully chiming solos upon solos. Each is a powerful element in its own right but together they pack the mood-changing potency of a Sun Country 2-liter on a warm summer’s night celebrating strong bonds made stronger by rock and roll.
If you follow the songs through their loose thematic flow, it feels like Motivator might be a diary or tour log of sorts, a bunch of reflections on what is it to be High Spirits for a while (or any kickass rock-n-roll band or any kickass rock-n-roll fan) It begins with the rousing build of the intro, “Up and Overture,” and courses through the welcoming embrace of “Flying High,” in which Black acknowledges the tyranny of daytime constraints for most folks, appeals to the freedom of night, and assures each individual in a symbolic crowd: “You are not the only one / we’ve only just begun / to outrun the sun.” It’s an inspiring sentiment that hits its peak on “Reach for the Glory,” a hard-charging rocker that flies a power metal guidon and channels battlefield bagpipes through simple ringing leads to remind us that, as hard as Life can get, we’re winning. These songs feel like Black is talking to a friend. Maybe he is. Maybe he sees rock and roll and his music and his band and fans and friends in the same light. Maybe to Chris Black they’re all one and the same emotional dynamo that feeds his unrepentant enthusiasm.
But Black sings to Life’s suck, too, slowing the tempo briefly for thoughts on the hard work of making dreams real in “Do You Wanna Be Famous?” and the weight of longing in “Haunted by Love.” And “Take Me Home” is a break up song about the tough but inevitable choice to chase a dream over settling down with love. It sets a paradoxically bouncy tension against the sad lyrical theme and poignant leads to convey the often complex emotion that comes with leaving. Taking a little liberty with the lyrics, the bittersweet essence of “Take Me Home” really gets at that feeling at the tail end of some epic experience. Like awaiting a return flight, utterly exhausted from a solid weekend of headbanging with the greatest motherfuckers on Earth, too much juicy juice, not nearly enough Guru wisdom, and an exhilarating brush with tree-fucking derecho death. [Editor’s note: This is all based on truth. Wonderful, bizarre, glorious truth.] No way you want times like these to end except that even one more day of cutting the fuck loose would surely mean full system collapse. And so the quiet promise of restoration beckons and memories become fuel for tomorrow.
And then, as if on cue, Motivator finishes with the impossibly upbeat and surefire show-ender, “Thank You,” a speedy NWOBHM paean to friendship that epitomizes what this album and High Spirits are all about. It’s most likely a note to a real life friend, but could just as easily be (and probably is also) a shout out to the band’s fans that draws its energy from memories made and those to come.
And so, with due respect to Dr. James, those unnecessary things that we deny ourselves aren’t so unnecessary after all. They’re as crucial to happiness and success as all that will-building we do to buttress our present against the cruelest ill winds of the future. So do the stuff that sucks so bad. Plan. Prepare. Work. Temper yourself. You’ll be glad you did when the shit hits the fan. But also Live. Love your friends. “Reach for the glory / with all of your might.” If you’re Chris Black, all of these might be the same things. The rest of us can at least soak up the inspiration from his songs on our way to tackling that progress report that’s due Friday.