Free Energy – “Free Energy”

By • Apr 20th, 2010 • Category: Jukebox

Travel Jukebox is a semi-regular series that highlights songs befitting a life in transit. It also ignores the obvious flaw in its metaphor, since traveling with a jukebox is next to impossible.

Few things sum up the optimism of youth more than Richard Linklater’s “Dazed and Confused.”

On the film’s tie-dyed exterior, it’s a vehicle for simple, hazy-eyed drug humor. But at its emotional core, it’s a poignant take on the sunny-side shortsightedness that only safely exists during late teenage years.

The final frame of the 1993 work echoes as a testament to the characters’ carefree exuberance and ability to forget about the past night – or past lifetime, if they wished – stare off into the horizon and truly believe that their tomorrows don’t have to be the victims of what happened yesterday.

In the scene, four friends hit the road at dawn en route to buy concert tickets, their “top priority of the summer.” As the film ends, the camera stares out of the front windshield and down a seemingly endless stretch of vacant freeway. What’s ahead is anyone’s guess, but it’s a safe bet that the quartet believe this day – and the rest of their lives, for that matter – will be a series of individual events, never more than a new outlook or new ZIP code away from a clean slate.

The young and naïve will say starting over can be this easy. The aged and cynical will say doing so isn’t worth it. One group is too young, the other too old, to know any better.

Free Energy’s 2010 self-titled song plays somewhere in between – full of hope but tempered with caution.

The retro-minded first track off the Philadelphia band’s debut LP harkens back to a post-hippie, pre-disco era of Cheap Trick, T. Rex and Thin Lizzy arena rock. It’s big. It’s gleeful. It’s urgent and charismatic. Most importantly, it’s packed with an energy that seems to come effortlessly – almost, appropriately, for free.

And as vocalist Paul Sprangers’ conversationally declares the opening lines, “We’re breaking out this time / Making out with the wind / And I’m so disconnected / I’m never gonna check back in / We’re gonna start a new life / See how it goes / Before we’re tired and too slow,” there’s little reason to doubt his sincerity. Sung over a rhythmic cowbell and a finger-tapped, fret board solo, the opening verse sets the song’s hopeful tone. Sprangers and Co. aren’t a quintet of lecturers waxing intellectually about the crisis of age. Instead, they’re five friends laughing out loud, singing, dancing, clapping and remaining grateful for life’s do-overs.

After all, optimism is a gift often wasted on the young, as second chances are doled out at an age when there isn’t much that can’t be fixed – or just forgotten about – by rolling down the windows, cranking up a car stereo, and hitting the open road.

But at age 30, Sprangers and his bandmates find themselves in rare territory – cheerful enough to dream big, careful enough to do so with a plan. It’s why the wiry front man sounds so genuine while singing, “This is all we’ve got tonight / We are young and still alive / Now the time is on our side,” during the song’s chorus. This isn’t some wide-eyed teenager declaring that he has all the time in the world. Instead, he’s a conversant adult, and there’s a confidence in his voice when he promises that time isn’t running out. These are guys not sweating the small stuff; they have an awareness that life could be a lot better but with an understanding that it also could be a lot worse. It’s what keeps the almost-five-minute song void of both razor-sharp cynicism and rainbow puppy-dog giddiness.

What does exist in almost every line of Free Energy’s namesake tune is an appreciation for today. There’s thankfulness for the here-and-now, which echoes through each electrified riff and swirling harmonic, none more than during the song’s fist-pumping bridge.

Do you know why the spirit’s calling / From mountain to sea / It reminds us we’re alive this moment / Of who we are, what we could be,” Sprangers sings. “There’s nothing to pray for, there’s nothing to know / We’re never waking up if we never let it go / The fever is coming, it’s shaking the ground / The city’s alive so tonight we break out / It’s coming apart now; it’s not too far / We’ll never know why we arrive where we are / We’ll never know why we’ve been receiving these signs / But if you wanna get high kid, just open your eyes.”

He’s right: There’s so much to see. In reminding us so, Sprangers captures the spirit of a traveler who feels as though he might have missed the best sites during his first visit. This time through, he’s going to make damn sure to breathe deeply and take nothing for granted.

“Free Energy” is a warm embrace of a song, standing open-armed to all of life’s imperfections – and loving each moment simply because it’s arrived. That’s right, kids, just open your eyes.

But if you find yourself heading toward the horizon on a freeway at dawn, turn up the stereo and crack open a window, too. Life is good.

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