The second track to be made available for purchase from “No Pier Pressure”, “Runaway Dancer” is a relatively rare foray into something approaching a modern, contemporary pop chart sound. Written and performed with Sebu Simonian from the duo “Capital Cities”, “Runaway Dancer” ultimately offers some interesting musical hooks couched in a production and arrangement style that not surprisingly has caused some divisiveness among fans.
Musically, the song is relatively straightforward. Brian starts the song off singing the first verse in a lower register. Sebu offers some higher register vocals, though his voice is usually couched in several vocal parts, so it’s difficult to hear his singular voice. The track is underlined by a techno-ish beat which, along with some bleepy keyboard parts and slightly staccato guitar makes the track sound much more like “Capital Cities” than Brian Wilson.
However, it appears Brian probably wrote most of the composition, with Sebu offering input as well. It sounds like the production and arrangement is where the track took on the contemporary sound that Capital Cities fans would be much more familiar with.
With any track like this that not only deviates from the norm, but seems to cater (some would argue pander) to younger listeners, the issue can divide fans. Extremes are jumped to quickly. You sound like an old curmudgeon if you suggest Brian is pandering. Conversely, if you like the track, the accusation sometimes is that you’re a sycophantic Brian fan who will “like” anything he does.
I’m inclined to say the techno-ish sound is not to my liking; regardless of the motivation in using it. Its ubiquity in terms of modern pop trends is certainly part of this. I didn’t know I had already heard a Capital Cities song until I tried one out and realized “Safe and Sound” is the annoying song that seems to be playing every time I go into the mall.
Still, “Runaway Dancer” has some interesting hooks. It can get stuck in your head, which may or may not be a good thing. The more jazzy chord changes on the transitions between bridge and transitions after the verses (also heard in the intro) sound interesting. The use of saxophone (not something I’m usually enamored with) does give the track a bit of an interesting twist and deviation that puts a bit of a Brian stamp on this one.
Ultimately, the track is about as successful as such a foray could possibly be for Brian. I think this one is a solid album track. I may not go back and seek it out often, but as I often say, one track like this is okay. If Brian had cut an entire album in this style, it would be more grating.
Also worth noting is that a live version of the song from the “Soundstage” taping from December is up on YouTube, and it understandably and refreshingly sounds somewhat less synthetic and processed. It might be a preferable version to some folks.