Sheer Mag, “Need to Feel Your Love”
Need to Feel Your Love
When the term “protest music” comes up, it is often in the context of those who take rose-tinted views of the hippie movement—“Imagine” or “For What It’s Worth.” Then there’s the punk response of the late ’70s/early ’80s, where the bands typically heralded are cynical but ultimately nihilistic, like the Sex Pistols (and should you doubt their ultimate nihilism, just see John Lydon’s hot pro-Trump/pro-Brexit takes). Devoid from the explanations are actual motivations or depictions of collective action.
While Sheer Mag’s debut full-length Need to Feel Your Love opens with familiar Thin Lizzy riffage, singer Tina Halladay and company are decidedly different in message; it seems instructive that the opening track is called “Meet Me in the Street.” Halladay sings in a snarling yell, “We get our kicks with bottles and bricks,” and when police respond violently with riot gear and tear gas, as so often is the case at actual protests, Halladay sings about “throwing rocks at the boys in blue.” It’s a reminder that defending and standing up for your comrades is done out of love, too. On what’s perhaps their most Knack-sounding power-pop track, Halladay reminds those wielding power that if they aren’t willing to concede it to the many, they should “expect the bayonet.”
Clearly, Need to Feel Your Love isn’t any less blunt than the Philadelphia punk band’s magnificent string of EPs, and given that that bluntness is coupled with anti-capitalist sensibilities, it’s safe to say Sheer Mag will never be chart-toppers—though with lead guitarist Kyle Seely’s breathless ability to back Halladay’s barbs with catchy guitar hooks (see “Fan the Flames”), the group frequently teeter the line between underground and mass appeal.
During times of protest, calls for the ambiguous “love” are often accompanied by sentiments like, “Well, at least art is going to be great again,” as if resistance is simply a matter of consuming the right media. Sheer Mag are a big fuck-you to that type of complacency; at no point do you sense that they believe that the high quality of their music is a consolation for living in a pre-fascist state. That much has been known for a while. But on Need, the band’s anger finds its complement in, of all things, love songs; the title track, “Just Can’t Get Enough,” and “Milk and Honey” all stand out as both tender and immensely catchy tracks about romance.
But what Sheer Mag show in the album’s barn-burning cow-punk closer “(Say Goodbye to) Sophie Scholl” is that radical musicians—whether they play punk, hip-hop, or outlaw country—cannot only be an cathartic emotional outlet, but an entry point for young people politically. It can inspire someone to look into the history of the titular German Anti-fascist executed by Nazis—and maybe think differently about those kinds of radicals today.