Photo by Jeff Harris
Eddy Lee Ryder calls her latest single, “Expected to Fly,” a refusal to come of age–an audacious way to introduce yourself as an artist. It’s the title track from the NYC rocker’s debut EP, which has been coming out one track at a time for the past year. Listening to the full batch, it’s safe to say Ryder saved the best for last–or at least the catchiest and most darkly theatrical.
“Expected to Fly” tells the story of friends grown irrevocably apart. The verses look back on a fun-filled summer spent as twin outcasts breaking hearts, dancing in the street, and driving all night. The pre-chorus, chorus, and bridge come hurtling into the fractured present, on the precipice of maturity. It casts her narrator’s friend as a bird perched on the edge of the nest–whether to catch an updraft or plummet to her death, Ryder doesn’t say. She leaves her fate up in the air–so to speak–but revels in the dizziness of the moment, with chords that capture the feeling of wildness, and above all, its desperate spiral.
Sonically, the song is a classic rock homage; she says she wrote it listening to Bruce Springsteen, and it’s hard not to hear echoes of Stevie Nicks’ “Edge of Seventeen.” (You could read the title as a Buffalo Springfield nod, though maybe it’s just that flight is one of rock songwriting’s most-used tropes). It’s a kind of nostalgia that plays into the lyrics’ sense of tension and tragedy. Ryder looks back to the classics while her narrator clings to her younger self, even when it hurts–“Everybody’s gone, and I’m still the same.” Bringing in a seasoned producer and engineer like Kevin Killen (U2, Elvis Costello, Kate Bush) really cements the aesthetic.
When she belts the chorus, she takes off less like the one-winged bird of her lyrics and more like a jet engine of emotion. The effect is like something from a devastating jukebox musical based on the works of an overlooked 70s great, but it’s not just the set dressing; she has the chops to back it up. Her background includes classical training in opera, and she proves it in explosive fashion.
The song takes on another layer of meaning in light of its history. It was already released once before, in another life, when Ryder performed under the name Liz Brennan. The new arrangement has a more dramatic heft–driving electric guitar replaces the original piano chords, and the dynamics are more pronounced–but the most surprising thing is how little it matters. “Expected to Fly” is just one of those solidly-composed tunes that sounds good any way you slice it. If she’s changed her name and adopted a harder-edged style, that doesn’t mean she has to grow up altogether.
Another one of the EP’s singles proves as much. “Small Apartment” engages in some good old fashioned rock ‘n’ roll mythologizing in its wicked kiss-off to the woman who had Ryder evicted for making too much noise–as a chorus of backup vocals announce, “She’s a prick.” The EP places that defiant, juvenile touch alongside glam rock glitter and grit (“Silver Chain”) and moments of deeper, more earnest feeling (“There In Dreams”). But “Expected to Fly” draws everything together, and it rises well to the challenge of its influences.