The Cosmic American

Dublin's Ste Kelly combines catchy pop and Shakespeare on "(Oh to be a) Butterfly"

That 2022 has been productive for Ste Kelly is something of an understatement. 

 

On March 10 he released Bad News Best Forgotten, a 12-song collection of indie, pop, rock, folk, and even a bit of punk. 

 

Kelly’s two aces in the hole – if that’s possible – are creative lyrics and unique personality. The former are literate and clever, the latter informed by his Irish background. Each track on Bad News Best Forgotten shows this on full display, especially upbeat opener “OK Omen,” vibrant “Roses,” and smart, folky “All Things Must End.”

 

Hot on the heels of Bad News Best Forgotten is his latest single, “(Oh to be a) Butterfly,” which has the same charm and intelligence. 

 

What makes “(Oh to be a) Butterfly” so singular and successful is that it marries super catchy pop music and literate lyrics without being sentimental or overbearing. Typically, when someone tries something like this, they either rely on cliches musically or try too hard to sound smart with the lyrics. 

 

“(Oh to be a) Butterfly” avoids both traps, which, coming from a songwriter, I know by experience is quite tricky.

 

Musically, “(Oh to be a) Butterfly” hearkens back to the glory days of pop-punk, combined with a tasteful, not-too-surprising Irish bend. The whistling as a hook is a nice touch, as is the subtle mandolin.

 

The upbeat track is a collaboration with Sean OB, Kelly’s former Raglans bandmate. That group had a nice run of success in the mid-2010s, with their 2014 self-titled album reaching #5 on the Irish Album Chart and #1 on the Irish Indie Chart. Worldwide tours with the likes of The Libertines and Lifehouse followed. 

 

Sean and Kelly expand the palette of Raglans on “(Oh to be a) Butterfly,” which is something like a split between their former group’s pop/rock and the broader range of sounds on Kelly’s solo material. 

 

It’s the song’s lyrics, though, that really shine.

 

When you’re listening to a fun pop-punk track, the last thing you expect is Shakespeare references, much less ones that work well and fit the song. “(Oh to be a) Butterfly” does just that from its first lines:

 

William-esque tragedy

Fuel for the melody

Over the top and out of line

 

It eventually gets even more specific:

 

Idealist Romeo

Spendthrift Bassanio

Juliets and Portias out of reach

Find comic relief, yeah, on the edge of your seat

Crying as you laugh through gritted teeth

 

Lines like “words that found symmetry/now find an enemy/so fester as thoughts left in the mind” and “oh to be a butterfly/symmetrical with wings designed/to glide together” have a vocabulary and intelligence that are rare in pop music today.

 

Most importantly, though, when you listen to “(Oh to be a) Butterfly” you won’t be able to get the tagline – “tread lightly on my dreams when you leave” – out of your head. The track leaves an impression melodically, musically, and lyrically.

Erik Ritland is a songwriter and journalist from Nashville, Tennessee. Check out all his albums here, in addition to his articles for Music in Minnesota and Something Else! Reviews.