Apparently, some kind of teaser for the new song Damon Albarn unveiled this past weekend (Skip to 2:38):
Considering everyone was convinced that the previously-teased “Under The Westway” was going to be the final Blur release, this is a surprise… and perhaps suggests that rumors of a new Blur album may not have been entirely out there after all.
“Mr. Zebra” almost always, without fail, takes me to “Music Box,” for some reason. The quirky female singer-songwriter with a piano connection, maybe? Or perhaps that this song feels as short and as playful – or more playful – as the previous Tori Amos one, with Regina Spektor just playing around, throwing her vocals around (The lyric becoming vomit noise towards the end) and telling the musical equivalent of a shaggy dog story. It’s hard not to be charmed by this, at least for me.
It’s wonderfully short; at less than two minutes (Closer to 1:30), it certainly leaves you wanting more.
There’s something about that “Figure it out” line, with the piano forcing it down, turning it into four plateaus (“Fig Ure It Out”) that then hits bottom and bounces back with the “She’s-” that immediately follows, the bounce underscored by the brass.
The brass arrangement! I love brass when it’s well done, and here it’s especially well done, subtle yet firmly present, offering an unusual sound in pop music but also a comforting nostalgia.
Without a doubt, my favorite Tori Amos song… Not that that’s an admittedly long list, I admit, but still.
I was prepared to like this song for its epic title as much as anything else, when I discovered it; there’s something wonderfully funny and romantic about the pessimistic take on optimism it offers up, after all. But thankfully, the song itself lived up to its name; it’s a love song to pop music, a hyperactive, ever-changing thing that moves through sounds and arrangements as it tries to assure that it’ll be there to try and please no matter what, cynically and wide-eyed at the same time. “If you wanna sing/Tell me what you wanna sing/And I’ll play/Yeah, I’ll play,” the singer explains, “Speed it up/Or slow it down/If you want/We’ll change the sound,” explaining the shifts in the song as meta-commentary on the lyrics, which are themselves meta-comments on the need for bands to twist and turn in order to sell as much as they are pleas for the lovelorn to win their objects of affection.
All this, plus a tribute/rip-off of the speeded-up piano break from the Beatles’ “In My Life” at 1:27. Winning my heart was much easier for this song than landing men on the moon.
Another melancholy song of love and loss; I’m not sure why I’m in the mood for this kind of music today, but it doesn’t reflect any deeper emotional trauma as far as I know. What appeals to me about “Hate It Here” is likely a cultural thing that wasn’t intended. It sounds, for want of a better way to put it, like a AOR song that belongs in the 1970s, what with the electric piano and the guitar lines, and that – just like “If We Were Words,” for that matter – makes the lyrics seem more out of place, until you get to the chorus, when the song shifts gears like a bizarro “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” and starts grinding in what feels to me like comedic self-flagellation.
The mundane details of what’s “missing” throughout the song appeal, as well; not just because it’s true, that the absence of a lover makes itself known in the small things as much as (moreso?) than the bigger ones, but also because it allows for some fun detourning of blues song construction. Lines like “I check the phone/I check the mail/I check the phone again and I call your mom” have the taste of honesty as well as just being funny. Cheap holidays in other people’s misery, indeed, but at least this time we’re all invited.
There need to be more songs like this, I think; hopelessly romantic, but songs for non-lovers for whatever reason. The way the song sounds is gentle and stereotypically “love song”-ish, with Rhys’ warm voice and the simple arrangement that sounds old-fashioned (That falling piano!), but the lyrics are more… hurt, more guarded and that appeals to me. “I will always wonder/How life would be if we never had met/Things would be easier/But dull, I suspect,” he sings, in a line that always makes my heart break – Anyone who’s never felt like that, you’re lucky – before returning to the refrain for thwarted lovers in the chorus: “I never claimed you were mine/But if we were words, we would rhyme.”
It’s a wonderfully sweet song, but one that’s also staggeringly sad. Like I said, the world needs more songs like this, I think.
This is one of those songs that nostalgia overwhelms any critical judgment for me; it was the first song played at Suede’s first gig to promote Head Music, something I’d been bussed down to London from Aberdeen to be present for because… Actually, I can’t even really remember, now. Was I supposed to be designing their tour program at that point, or was I just going down with friends, one of whom I had an entirely doomed crush on? Either way, I remember the song sounding great live – Very different from this version, although I’ve always liked the fact that scissors are used for percussion in the recorded version – and, after the gig, people still singing their versions of the opening lyrics, half-remembered and entirely wrong. This song will always be about that weird period in my life when I spent a lot of time in London, feeling both like I was “making it” (even though I didn’t know what that meant), and losing it (knowing all too well what that meant); just hearing it now reminds me of bus rides and plane trips and sleeping on a lot of friends’ floors.
Something weird/sad/whatever about Suede’s comeback, post-Bernard Butler leaving the band: Coming Up – which was, I should point out, a massive hit for the band, far more popular than the last Butler album Dog Man Star – wasn’t their first post-Butler album, really. There was another album entirely of material that had been rejected by their record label for not being good enough in between, parts of which snuck out as b-sides of Coming Up singles. “Every Monday Morning Comes” came from there, and appeared as a CD-extra track on one of two variants of the “Trash” single. It’s much less eager to please than anything on Coming Up, and far more sprawling; while the lyrics are essentially junk, there’s a attractiveness of that climbing guitar line, and the bridge that starts at 2:03 is the kind of thing that had gotten people to pay attention to Suede in the first place, just a wonderful example of someone showing off playing the guitar with their new effects pedal.
When “Trash” came out, I knew someone who worked in the management office of Suede – This is how I ended up doing the design of their Head Music tour program, a couple years later, a fun and frustrating experience – and I sent them a postcard (This was pre-internet, of course; I am old) saying “Every Monday Morning Comes” should’ve been the single. Years later, said friend wrote Love & Poison, a really great biography of the band, and said the same thing. I always wondered if he stole the line from me, or thought the same thing all along.
By some Suede-y contrast, here’s the second single for Coming Up, their comeback album from… what, maybe two or three years after Dog Man Star, the last album with Bernard Butler…? Something like that. The band had two new members, Neil Codling and Richard Oakes – I can’t believe I can remember their names without looking it up, and feel suitably embarrassed about that, to be honest – who’d both taken on some co-writing duties with singer Brett Anderson, and Suede was re-created as a much shinier, less threatening thing to take advantage of the Britpop scene that was already beginning to decline. “Beautiful Ones” was the second single off the album and… it’s catchy, and it’s fine, but it lacks the presence of something like “Killing of A Flash Boy.” It’s lightweight and disposable, and for all the sly comedy of the lyrics (“Shaking their meat/To the beat/Yeah” and “Shaking their bits/To the hits/Oh” indeed), it’s also slightly embarrassing; a parody of the sexual ambiguity and danger of the band they used to be.
More depressingly, this was by far the best of the singles from the album, and probably the best of the tracks at all, with the possible exception of the (equally arch, equally camp) “She”: