If there is something that Phillip Phillips has demonstrated he can do extremely well–both on his albums and his live shows–is that he can play a mean, funky guitar riff. Another one is his ability to craft incredibly unique and distinctly sounding songs both as a solo writer and as a co-writer. “Lead On” is an example of both, an infectious, delicious funky song by Phillip and regular collaborators Todd Clark and Derek Fuhrmann. Full of lyrics you can’t help but sing along to, “Lead On” has become a set list regular during Phillip’s live performances, where it continues to evolve into one of the best and funkiest jams of the show.
Musically, “Lead On” has a great organic feel, with a driving rock beat that creates a sense of urgency from the start. Beautiful strings cruise above, contrasting with the beat but also accentuating it and counterpointing it later on. It’s vibrant, rich and very inviting.
Lyrically, “Lead On” is equally rich, with lyrics that fall effortlessly into the beat and string along seamlessly between verses and chorus. The lyrics are very visual too, creating evocative images with only a few words (“You are the blur in my eye as I wake up through the night” being one of my favourites lines). Phillip’s vocals, urgent and yearning, give an additional edge to the song, because despite the funky and rocking feel of the music, “Lead On” is not really a light song.
The lyrics describe a relationship, a slightly dependent one, even a little toxic, but one he’s not ready or willing to quit just yet. The feeling is of wanting to let go and lose himself in it, despite what this may cost him (“I can’t quit you, and I’m fine with being used”), even if it means his sanity and control (“You are the rarest drug, with every word I breathe, I feel the way you’ve changed me”). Although he yearns for release, he continues to plead to be taken along, maybe because this is actually the only way he can be free. The lyrics are probably about love, but songs, of course, can have multiple meanings, and Phillip, as we know, is never quite transparent with his words, finding ways to convey probably very personal feelings through images and stories that resonate with many while not necessarily revealing his most intimate world.
A fun but intriguing song, the sense of urgency on “Lead On” actually grows as the song moves along, culminating with that intense crescendo that literally leaves us “hanging on to every word.” In the end too, we realize that nothing has changed, as passion–like an addiction–beckons again into the night, surely stronger and more delicious, in this case, that any possible pain or doubt.
Take a look at some great fan artwork inspired by “Lead On” submitted as part of Phillip’s lyrics contest last year. And check out a couple of amazing live performances of “Lead on” below!