I am not a theoretical physicist, nor do I play one on TV, but specific topics within that scientific field intrigue me. Among them: Hermann Minkowski’s introduction in 1908 of spacetime, which posits that time is the fourth dimension. It was an extension of Albert Einstein’s 1905 theory of special relativity, and a building block for Einstein’s 1915 theory of general relativity, which dove into the distortions that gravity has on time.
In the years before and since those scientific (and, at heart, philosophical) ideas, there have been a number of theories related to time. MIT-based philosopher Brad Skow, for instance, subscribes to the “block universe” approach, which – to layman me, anyway – seems little more than an extension of the age-old concept of eternalism, which I learned about decades ago in college. Skow says that we do not flow on a river of time nor does time pass us by, but instead postulates that the past, present and future exist simultaneously in different locations within spacetime. In essence, time is the constant; we are not.
The “growing block universe theory of time,” on the other hand, excludes the future from the equation, but that seems designed to deny a potential, troubling extension of the non-growing block universe approach: That our futures may be predestined. If the future co-exists alongside the present and past, after all, it stands to reason that our future has already been written. (Of course, that’s a hypothesis that can’t be proven – or disproven – unless or until our neighboring multiverses are uncovered.)
There’s also this: The universe is expanding faster than scientists long assumed. The reasons have yet to be determined, and likely never will be, but to me it indicates that an unknown gravitational force is causing a curvature or dimple in the fabric of spacetime. I.e., what we perceive to be an expanding universe is likely the result of a figurative bowling ball – a new black star, perhaps – being dropped in the middle of spacetime. While the fabric stretches at the edges, the distance between points near the ball, where the fabric sags beneath the added weight, actually shrinks.
In other words, the force of gravity is causing portions of the past, present and future to jostle closer together. And, theoretically speaking, such moments are when time travel is most feasible.
My tongue’s somewhat in cheek, of course, but it leads to this: Jade Bird’s eponymous debut. The 21-year-old wunderkind singer-songwriter, a former military brat from North East England, possesses a voice that soars like a soul to heaven and a knack for writing songs that are beyond her age. One explanation: An older Jade Elizabeth Bird leapt through a wormhole and imparted her hard-won wisdom to her younger self. The more likely explanation: She’s just damn good.
Check out “Does Anybody Think So,” one of the album’s highlights.
Musically speaking, the opening is reminiscent of Bruce Springsteen’s “State Trooper.” Lyrically, however, it veers toward matters of the heart, loneliness and yearning. It’s a stunning song. The same can be said of “Side Effects,” which Jade described to Apple Music as having a “driving, almost Springsteen-y riff.”
The cover photo may be (purposely) out of focus, but the songs themselves are crystal clear. While the bulk of the set focuses on the perennial subjects d’jour of popular song – love, betrayal, life, death, etc., etc. – unlike with many of her peers (or forebears, for that matter), the tunes never overstay their welcome. When we saw her last year, I equated her and her band to a twang-infused Ramones, and that approach stays true here. The longest song is a few ticks short of four minutes; most of the others hover near three.
In some ways, she’s akin to a ferocious (but charismatic) boxer: In Round 1, the listener’s knocked down by her deft hooks, and then knocked down again in each of the following 11 rounds. “I Get No Joy” is a good case in point; here she is on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon performing it:
A few of the songs have been known quantities for quite a while – “Lottery” topped Billboard’s Adult Alternative Songs chart in April 2018; “Uh Huh” dates to August ’18; and “Love Has All Been Done Before” has been ricocheting around my head since its release in November ’18.
They and “I Get No Joy” share a high-octane familiarity – they’re perfect tracks to stand out in the playlist-centric world we find ourselves in. On album, however, without given space to breathe, they’re as likely to leave the listener suffering from whiplash. What turns the eponymous set from a collection of singles into a cohesive set, at least for me, are “Side Effects” and the introspective “Does Anybody Think So,” “My Motto” and especially “If I Die.”
In some ways, “If I Die” conjures another song written by another wise-beyond-her-years upstart: “Where Does the Time Go” by Sandy Denny. It’s as if, at age 21 (probably 20 when she wrote it), she channeled the wisdom of the ages. It’s a timeless track, and the perfect end to a good-great full-length debut.