Sunday, July 10, 2016

Triumph - Lay It On The Line



Canada has produced some of greatest three member bands in the history of classic rock in the forms of Rush, The Tea Part, and Triumph; or at the very least, Canada has produced three of my favourite trio rock bands, but maybe I am biased, being Canadian and all.

Rush is easily the greatest progressive rock group of all time. The Tea Party, while tragically underrated, are probably the best band of the entire 90s, big claim I know, but I stand by it. Lastly we have Triumph, I suppose it would be an exaggeration to claim that Triumph was one of the greatest 80s rock bands, but the truth is, they were. Sure Triumph will never have the grand fame and success of Guns N’ Roses or Van Halen, and sure former hair bands like Bon Jovi and Def Leppard will always be more famous and recognizable as super duper 80s, but certainly worthy of mention is Canada’s Triumph.

It helps a lot that I grew up in Canada where I was subject to the radio playing a minimum of 35% Canadian content, and as a consequence classic rock station play a lot of Rush, The Guess Who, April Wine, Chilliwack, The Tragically Hip, Neil Young and Triumph; never enough Tea Party though. For those of you reading this who are not Canadian (which is most of you) you are getting a great lesson on Canadian classic rock, look up these bands if you have not already.

I have never really agreed with the Canadian content laws, I have always felt the strength of Canadian music never needed government regulation to assist in representation, Canadian television on the other hand, maybe. Nonetheless Triumph gets a fair amount of radio play that they would probably not receive otherwise, so in this hyper specific example the content laws worked out okay I guess.

I talk a lot about bands that are quasi-forgotten in the chronicles of classic rock, I mean the last review was about Free, and Triumph somewhat fits this mold. Sure, here in Canada, many Canadians remember and enjoy Triumph, and Canadian fans of classic rock mostly remember Triumph, but people outside of Canada? Not so much. Americans who absolutely love 80s rock probably remember Triumph, but that is a very narrow range of fame, and in turn, that is a very limited amount of appreciation for one of the better bands to exist in the late 70s and 80s.

I claim that Triumph is a 80s rock band but they started their career in the mid 70s, and my favorite albums of theirs are their first three, which were released 1976-1979. The 80s saw the release of the majority of their radio hits, “Magic Power,” “Follow Your Heart” and “Never Surrender,” but again, their best songs, in my opinion, were all from the 70s, “Hold On,” “The Blinding Lightshow,” “Street Fighter Man,” “Rock and Roll Machine” and best of all, “Lay It on the Line.”

“Lay It on the Line,” at a glance is a very good rock song about heartbreak, but I have always believed the song to be about a confused love. There is this strong implication of mixed messages being received by Emmett’s narrative character, and he is left extremely unsure where he stands with this woman he is pursuing. It is an unrequited love, but a perplexing one;

“It's the same old story all over again,
You turn a lover into just another friend.
I want to love you, I want to make you mine,
Won't you lay it on the line?”


As the song progresses the frustration in Emmett’s voice grows, and a demand for answers becomes the central theme;

“I'm tired of playing all your foolish games,
I'm tired of all of your lies making me insane.
I don't ask for much, the truth will do just fine.
Won't you lay it on the line.

You got no right to make me wait,
We better talk, girl, before it gets too late.
I never thought you could be so unkind,
Won't you lay it on the line.

You know I love you, you know it's true,
It's up to you, girl, what've I got to do?
Don't hold me up, girl, don't waste my precious time.
Won't you lay it on the line.”


I particular like the line “don’t waste my time,” it is much easier to move forward, or move on, if we simply know where we stand with one another, and it can be highly aggravating being buried under such uncertainty. This awkward push and pull some people do to potential lovers when they are uncertain about their own feelings, or unsure how to tactful reject the advances given to them, is, however unintentional, probably the worst thing someone can do; which brings us to the what is likely the primary theme of this a song; honesty.

I can hardly offer meaningful relationship advice to anyone so I try to lean on Rik Emmet’s wisdom as much as possible here, but a great source of distress and collapse in many relationships, romantic and otherwise, is failed communication and especially when important feelings are withheld. The expression of Emmett’s narrator in “Lay It On The Line” is almost one of anger, and this stems entirely from his discomfort of not knowing what to do, or how to feel, about a would be lover’s refusal to simply to be honest and open with him. The best line in the song sums everything up perfectly; “I don't ask for much, the truth will do just fine.” I also like to think that is not asking too much, but like the narrator and presumably Emmett as well, I have had to live through many such experiences where something as necessary and readily available as the truth have been withheld at the cost of time and respect.

“Lay It on the Line” was released on the 1979 album “Just a Game” and the cover art depicts a variety of games, and what I never knew until recently is that each object, each game, is meant to represent a song from the album. Evidently the chess board, lying mostly empty, with pieces fallen over, is meant to represent “Lay It on the Line.” A chess board with conditions set that make the game unwinnable represents the story in “Lay It on the Line.” It is a very fair sentiment, that love is an unwinnable game when one of the players refuses to communicate.

I wanted to end this review with a touch of levity. I wanted to link a Space Ghost Coast to Coast webpage where each character had a personal profile that read exactly like the character had written it themselves. Moltar, the poorly drawn lava man, and producer of the cartoon talk show, had his page consisting mostly of ramblings about rock bands like The Ramones, Boston, and of course Triumph. There was a very comical analysis of “Lay It on the Line” there within, but unfortunately I cannot find it anymore, so that is a shame.

I suppose the moral of this review is twofold; Triumph are a great rock band and deserve more love, and also, we should make an effort to be more understanding of those who love us.

Try to be good to each other people, and lay it on the line.

- King of Braves

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