Paul Iwan is a singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist from Liverpool, England who’s been involved in music since his early teens, playing and touring with numerous bands and, over the past few years, writing and recording his own songs. He released his debut album Reveal in September 2016, which I reviewed, and followed up in early 2019 with his second album RESISTER, an autobiographical work addressing his newfound sobriety. In October 2018, I reviewed the first single “Parasite” from that album. Now Paul returns with a wonderful new single “Reward“, which I’ve chosen as my New Song of the Week.
“Reward” is actually a cover of a song originally recorded by Liverpool new wave band The Teardrop Explodes. Written by band members Julian Cope and Alan Gill, the song was a big hit in the UK in 1981. About the song, Paul explains: “Reward is one of the greatest songs to ever come out of Merseyside. Musically incessant and lyrically off kilter, I’ve adored this song all my life – I wanted to pull the lyrics out and expose their darkness. I always felt it was about loss of control, shame and regret which really resonates with my experiences with addiction. Music wise, I focussed on that bass line which drastically changes the atmosphere from parpy stomper to rumbling impending doom.”
What makes the song even more special is that Paul bought Julian Cope’s iconic (but broken) 1965 Lime Green Framus guitar, which he lovingly restored and used to record this track at Studio 45 in Liverpool. Paul elaborates: “It’s a really weird story: Bill Drummond was a big believer in what he called interstellar ley lines. He said Liverpool had this direct line into the energy of the universe and you could feel it if you stood on a certain manhole cover in Matthew Street (under the bust of Carl Jung). He’d send the Teardrops and Bunnymen off on tour and stand on this manhole cover soaking up this cosmic energy as they performed. Now, I’m not one to believe that sort of stuff but when I got the message about Julian’s Lime Green Framus guitar, I was stood on Matthew Street….under Carl Jung’s bust…. on that manhole cover! To say I was a bit freaked out is an understatement.”
Well, Paul does great justice to both Cope’s guitar and song, blowing our minds with his gorgeous, resonant guitar notes. Based on his previous songs, I’ve always considered Paul a skilled guitarist, but on “Reward” his guitar-playing rises to a whole new level. And about that rumbling bass line; It’s so deep, intense and melodic, cutting straight to our cores! Add in the dark, almost psychedelic synths and thunderous percussion, and the song has been transformed into a dramatic, almost grandiose production that soars straight to the heavens. It’s a magnificent song, and Paul’s finest work yet.
I also love his clear, powerful vocal style that registers in the higher octaves. He belts out the lyrics with a fervent passion that elicits chills.
Prisoner, stand accused, I stand accused
Live in solitude like Howard Hughes
All wrapped up the same
All wrapped up the same
Silence has it, arrogance has it
I can’t have it until I learn to accept my reward
For context, here’s the original recording of “Reward” by The Teardrop Explodes, which is a faster-paced new wave/punk style song: