Sung from his perspective, Mullen sings that the real work being done isn’t from politicians and government, but from the actual people. Don’t believe there ain’t nothing free, he contends. He sings with gratitude and a sense of pride. One interpretation of this song might be to call it a gathering storm. Just as he reminds the listen to follow the golden rule and allow the free market society (hence, the invisible hand) follow its course, a slew warm, melodic guitar riffs bolster his mid-range voice. Just leave it up to supply and demand, he sings. Mullen, a former lead singer/guitarist for the band The Skeptics (not the New Zealand punk band…a different one), might not be a college-age kid anymore, but he can still deliver a rock song. “Invisible Hand” has a sense of maturity embedded in the lyrics, and the polished production. Don’t go and call him an old fuddy-duddy, though, because he’s not that old. His voice still sounds young, still very enthused to be recording. His press materials note his comparisons to Elvis Costello and that’s a pretty spot-on assessment.
“Invisible Hand” communicated to me a feeling of restlessness and the desire to have a whole entire generation learn to wake up. In a trojan horse sort of move, Mullen wraps his words and guitar prowess (and a fine drum arrangement, too) with a shiny shellac. Peeling back the top layer, there is a grit, a blue collar layer to Mullen’s Buffalo, New York-raised vocals and playing. He’s hard working and he’s a realist in so many ways; “Invisible Hand” delivers a perfectly fine story and song that fans of songwriting will admire. The high hat beat pushes through, but it’s the guitar and Mullen’s word that make the most impact. You believe him – you buy into what he’s saying because he has that genuine voice we haven’t heard since Neil Young. Unlike government spending, he doesn’t add any pork here; it’s a clean, lean song.
What I really enjoyed about “Invisible Hand” is the song’s honesty. Mullen has integrity in his voice and the music foundation is pure rock and roll. He throws out a few politically charged lines, but overall, this isn’t one of those songs that will alienate listeners. He’s calm, but there is a glimmer of spunk in his voice. I don’t think he’s coming from a disillusioned viewpoint. I think he’s from a mature standpoint. His idea of social justice warrior is to be behind a microphone, armed with a guitar. I think, like the great poets of the 60s (Joan Baez, Buffalo Springfield and more) his heart is true. Dabbed with the tempo of an Elvis Costello track, “Invisible Hand” transforms the listener across several musical eras. It has that pull that takes you more into the nostalgic guitar worlds, but Mullen’s voice and overall vibe sounds perfectly modern.
“Invisible Hand” is part of Mullen’s anticipated sophomore solo album. He expects the collection to be out in early 2021. His last outing was 2018’s Unfamiliar Ground. What I’ve learned as new listener to Mullen is that his approach to music is unencumbered by any rhetoric or extra bells and whistles to his music. It’s raw, it’s genuine. “Invisible Hand” has a most subtle way of gripping the listener. It’s one of those slow burner songs that lingers for hours, and leaves a strong impression. I would highly recommend this song to the fans of the aforementioned groups (R.E.M., Elvis Costello and the Attractions) but also think fans of John Fogerty, The Smithereens and The Replacements will embrace Mullen’s exceptional skills. His kickoff to a new chapter in his career, is on solid ground.
The guitar feels like the real star of “Invisible Hand” and his Holly-influenced guitar playing is almost tangible. The guitar jumps out of the song, in happy-go-lucky sort of way. I felt a wave of nostalgia over me listening to “Invisible Hand” and it’s more about the vibe and the freedom of the guitar (and rock and roll) that Mullen seems to be communicating in my listening experience. You can almost reach out and touch the guitar strings, the guitar pic chunky-like riffs are pristine. The bass backbeat is very subtle, and to be honest, it might just be the reverb in the guitar that I’m confusing that rhythm with. It really transported me to a Back to the Future moment (Johnny Be Good!). “Invisible Hand” is a toe-tapper.
I also felt a bit more interested in the economics and Wall Street after listening to Mullen’s words. I can’t call myself an expert in business by any stretch of the means, but he’s inspired me to do some further reading on the subject of free markets and what exactly the American society can do to sustain itself. I never imagined this when the song came across my inbox, but here we are. Unlike anything else I’ve heard in 2020, “Invisible Hand” is hands down one of the most unique.
The term ‘invisible hand’ is a metaphor for the unseen forces that move a free market economy. Adam Smith introduced the lingo in 1759 and this income distribution term has stood the test of time. Singer/songwriter Tom Mullen’s new track “Invisible Hand” further explores this term in song, with a rocking backbeat. Mullen’s monetary muse is one thing – the talent put into this song is another big thing and it pays off.
Don’t worry, his song isn’t all stock market lingo or balance sheet references. Mullen’s laid back vocal vibe, complete with Roger McGuinn (The Byrds) like vocals. Mullen’s words blur the line between folk and Americana. Honoring a bit of protest songs of the past, but with a broader rock and roll glaze, “Invisible Hand” is one man’s case for letting the capitalistic/free market world continue. Afterall, Mullen sings, when you leave it to people, they will do the right thing. With so much strife in the world, it’s nice to hear a clean, clear song like this. Mullen’s congenial voice is a nice balance to what I’m assuming is a Gretch guitar or a Buddy Holly Strat. The tone is warm and an upbeat rhythm. They say a central plan is what we need, to overcome all this thoughtless greed. All for one, and one for all, he sings. The guitar curls around his voice. Just When he sings the words just leave it up, there’s a nice harmony, with the cymbals hitting at that exact moment. It’s a charming little bop moment. I really enjoyed the guitar arrangements.
Songs with hand or hands in the title is nothing new. There’s “Hands” from Jewel. Styx’s “Too Much Time On My Hands”, “Keep Your Hands To Yourself” from one-hit wonders Georgia Satellites, The Beatles’ “I Want To Hold Your Hand” and so many more make up this list. New to the crop is Tom Mullen’s “Invisible Hand”. Not a traditional song in the sense of romanticism or friendship, “Invisible Hand” plays to the tune of Mullen’s studies into the world of economics. A reference to Scottish philosopher and economist Adam Smith, “Invisible Hand” is the notion that in a free society, the government will not be the ones to help the less fortunate, it’s the invisible forces that keep the system going and sticking to the golden rule of doing unto others as you would want done to yourself.
While many say, that’s easier said than done in a world full of Enron’s and Ponzi Schemes, Mullen does make it sound so inviting and so easy in his track. Mullen has been recording music for over 30 years, and played guitar and sang lead vocals for the band The Skeptics in the 1990s. During his time with the band, their alternative power pop songs charted on CMJ, and supported bands 10,000 Maniacs and The Tubes at regional performances. Mullen, a Buffalo, New York-native, last released an album in 2018 (Unfamiliar Ground). “Invisible Hand” is part of his next full-length album expected in early 2021.
Singing we help each other when we don’t mean to, Mullen’s words are easy to follow along, and sing along to. I found myself humming to the rhythm. His guitar playing, and the pitter-patter percussion, have a joy to them. As your listening, you’re thinking, wow, this guy is really singing about a free market society, and how the government should keep their mugs off. In a lot of ways, I felt like Mullen the Buddy Holly Woodie Guthrie. He’s so ‘nice’ when he sings. He has that instant likability to him. “Invisible Hand” sounds like it could be plucked from Holly’s toolshed, and the guitar arrangement carries a much heavier weight than I initially thought. Guitar enthusiasts will be impressed. I sure was. He skillfully plays the guitar and the riffs immerse the listener into a bubble of rockabilly, rock and roll and folk rock.
Tom Mullen Track: Invisible Hand From: Invisible Hand (single) Label: Skeptic Songs Out: Now
“The perfect melodies of the missing link between the real start of jangle, as seen in the 1950’s guitar-pop of The Everly Brothers and the eventual, widely acclaimed start of jangle-pop, attributed to The Beatles and The Byrds…sheer jangled, laconic power-pop perfection, in every note.”
“If you like deep thought, self awareness, and swell Alternative licks, go ahead and stand up: Tom Mullen’s Invisible Hand is your stop. The song cruises along to a keen melody played in a stellar, shimmery sixties guitar tone to low key sparse drumming, while Mullen’s whimsical vocals calmly drop deep economic theory from Adam Smith to a supremely catchy tune, droll, well informed, and entirely unbothered.
Invisible Hand’s instrumentals are fantastic, featuring tight drumming and a beautifully toned guitar and bass playing fabulous retro melodies, excellently executed with a slightly staccato feel that keeps the track lively, interesting, and thoroughly alternative. The song’s lyrics are candid and knowledgeable, dropping easy references to economists Summers, Friedman, Keynes and a trite shoutout to author Ayn Rand, in the midst of its treatise, while also giving personable, less high-minded warnings about trusting the system for a combo that is both intelligent and approachable. Mullen brings great, Alternative vocals that are easy to listen to, while plenty of instrumental flourishes, including brief but satisfying solos beginning at approximately 3:18 keep the piece lighthearted and fun through and through.” – Mary Wildsmith
About the Reviewer:
Mary Wildsmith is an FM Radio DJ, and has been involved in both on-air work and radio production for five and a half years, in addition to working the past decade in and out of the live entertainment industry. She has experience with the fickle nature of the music industry, selecting singles to promote or discard for radio play, and engineering stage to audience sound systems. Having worked balancing, troubleshooting, and running audio rigs has enabled her to be both sensitive, and sympathetic, to the finesse and nuance of quality recording. Mary is passionate about promoting new and independent artists, and has spent extensive time in round-table environments discussing music and audio critically, and collaborating with artists to enable them to put the best possible foot forward with their art.
Middleport, Sept. 22, 2020. Skepticsongs is excited to announce the release of, “Invisible Hand” by Tom Mullen, the first single off Mullen’s forthcoming album, Into the Twilight, which will be available on October 6.
“I’ve had the chorus of this song cycling in my head for over ten years,” said Mullen. One day last year, I was humming the chorus and the first line of the first verse just popped out. So, I sat down to write the rest of the song before I forgot what I’d just done.”
Invisible Hand has already been downloaded by over 200 radio stations worldwide and is beginning to get significant airplay in Europe. A music video will be released within the next two weeks.
The single can be heard now on most popular music platforms, including:
We’ve just uncovered this bit of Skeptics history while rummaging through the VHS vault. We hope you enjoy it. Please check out the re-release of the band’s 1995 CD, Be Satisfied in the Skepticsongs Store!