The Early November - The Power Of Love

“The Power Of Love” is a curious thing. A #1 hit for 80’s rock-cheese icons Huey Lewis And The News at a time when #1 hits were truly inescapable, the track is blocky, chunky. (When Lewis later declared that “it’s hip to be square,” I’m not sure this was quite what he had in mind). The song opens with bright melodic uppercuts that might be Van-Halen-”Jump”-style synths and might be a horn section, tightly compressed staccato bursts that render any difference in timbre between those two potential bleat-generators indistinguishable. If the drums aren’t samples they ought to be, so metronomic in their methodical plod that they sound digitally quantized. The piercing blooze-guitar solo jabs and darts, intricate but unflashy, workmanlike. Lewis, for his part, is yarl-y in the right moments but largely controlled, each syllable a meticulously planned emotion (is “oomph!” an emotion?) spat out precisely so. 

None of which is meant to be dismissive; through its purposeful unsubtlety, the track accomplishes its mission — rocking, in that “I’m wearing a sport coat” kind of way — efficiently and effectively. “The Power Of Love” is, in a way that feels consummately mid-80s, equal parts fist-pumper and ass-shaker (assuming your ass, like mine, is attached to a stodgy, middle-aged white dude). Between its punchy instrumental hook and its day-glo sheen, Huey Lewis & The News’ “The Power Of Love” might be the most of-its-time song of its time. (That it first appeared in, and will forever be tied to, what might be the most of-its-time movies of its time probably helps cement this stature).

Which is why it’s such a pleasant surprise that New Jersey emo mainstays The Early November managed to unearth an entirely different song hiding within Lewis’ polished granite monolith of sound. Released in 2005 on Punk Goes 80’s (one in an ongoing series of seemingly-interminable, increasingly-terrible Punk Goes ___ compilations issued by scene stronghold Fearless Records), The Early November squash “The Power Of Love”’s jagged peaks and valleys to gentle rolls across a seemingly endless canvas, ocean waves melting into unbroken skyline on a clear day. 

There’s synth here too, but it serves the opposite purpose of the original’s spiky starbursts, with lonely, drawn-out notes that serve dual purpose, filling the otherwise-sparse atmosphere with cottony depth while carving out long parallel lines which mark out the track’s boundless plane. Sparse shaken percussion keeps time in a way that’s nearly unnoticeable. Vocalist Ace Enders barely rises above a hush, speak-singing the verses in a low, wizened whisper so close-mic’d that breath sounds sneak through. Like with Lewis, it’s the blues, just of a very different variety, an inward-facing blues, introspection (or navel-gazing, if that’s your bent) in place of bluster. The fingerpicked acoustic motif that becomes the hook dances in circles — in resolving itself, it repeats itself; by looping back around, the riff becomes a self-contained micro-universe, unbound from time. 

Lewis’ “Love” feels raw, almost desperate in its bravado and while, sure, young love is exhilarating, careening and giddy and steeped in bracing sensation, that exhilaration, by its nature, can’t sustain, it can only exist within its own jolting immediacy. The Early November’s “Love” picks up where Lewis’ leaves off, in the lingering, laconic warmth that follows (if you’re lucky). Lewis’ rendition of “The Power Of Love” pounds its way through an urgent quickie; TEN re-imagine the song as all buttery, languorous afterglow. 

It’s a take on love I’ve really connected with in 2012, where after more than a year of making dating work while living on opposite ends of New York City, my girlfriend and I moved in together. Suddenly, tightly-scheduled coffee-shop meetings between work shifts and brisk goodbyes have been replaced by lazy Sunday mornings and sleepy-eyed good-nights and all the time in the world. Lewis’ reading is all about the Power, but, this year, The Early November’s take on the song feels a lot more like the sweet, slow Love I’ve come to love best.

Jesse Richman

Jesse will appear on OWOB in March.