Becky Baxter / Conal O’Donoghue / Shauna McGarrity / John McNulty
A song about controlling relationships; a song about abuse; a song about breaking free.
“Shadow Man” was born from some light-hearted open jamming during a tea break at Outland Studios: Conal and Shauna started throwing riffs at each other in traditional “call & response” duelling style and suddenly a melody and a pattern emerged. John joined in on the drums and, in a matter of minutes, a solid tune started to develop. Becky then joined in with some part-written lyrics and matters went from there. Over the next few weeks, the band kept returning to the song and refining it (and even completing the lyrics!) and “Shadow Man” emerged from the melee.
Lyrically, the song hints at and evokes a number of different but related themes. The opening reference to lips bleeding initially suggests it is a song about abuse, but that quickly changes to suggest it is a song about controlling relationships. As the lyrics develop, the themes of abuse and control are called into question and it becomes more about strength of spirit and a song about breaking free. The chorus seems to support the theme of breaking free with its emphasis on not asking permission, but this too is challenged by the apparent request to be left alone: so it becomes a song about conflict, both personal and involving another, and a song about seeking to break free.
Ultimately, the listener is left to relate different parts of the song to their experience and find their own emphasis and meaning in it. You decide: is it a song about controlling relationships, a song about abuse, a song about breaking free or even a song about all of these themes?
“Shadow Man” has become the band’s favourite choice of ‘opener’ for live gigs and it is easy to see why: a brief opening exchange between lead and bass swiftly leads into a high energy riff, played with light distortion, that builds and builds through the verse to a crescendo that, with hindsight, is almost inevitable in an almost “grand opera” manner. Both Shauna’s bass line and John’s drum rhythm provide a solid foundation that appears simple on first acquaintance but reveal increasing levels of complexity on further listening. Conal’s solo manages to combine high energy with a strong suggestion of oppression while Becky’s plaintive vocal tone simultaneously evokes determination and weakness. Therein lies the essential contradiction of the song: a song about controlling relationships, a song about abuse and a song about breaking free.