Regrets? Yes, I’ve had a few. Many of which, predictably, are of the “romantic” variety. Sure, they get you down, but it’s not all bad. Mistakes like these can lead to other things, arty things. Enter song-writing. I’m in good company too. What follows is a list of songs that tackle, for want of a better term, intimacy. Principally, the physical kind. To me, they typify the ripe, the tripe, and the ? of aural amorousness.
Song: ‘Long Division’
Artist: Death Cab For Cutie
Rating: Believe the hype
Death Cab hit an unequivocal home-run with this year’s Narrow Stairs. The album is their Doolittle/Grace/whatever Led Zeppelin you like best. Even in such esteemed company as ‘Cath...’, and ‘Pity and Fear’, ‘Long Division’ stands tall. It chugs. But better than that, Benjamin Gibbard crafts a lovelorn tale so intimate you feel dirty. In a good way.
Its flourishes are many and varied. The gentle yet firm propulsion of the rhythm section, the best disinterested vocal since ‘Heart of Glass’, the sparse arpeggios,… you get the idea. As impressive as the details are, structure is the song’s crowning touch. Standard verse-chorus-verse-chorus territory seldom sounds so fresh. Its hard not read the track as a metaphor for a relationship. The tentative first steps, sudden highs, and aching uncertainty are all evoked by the chorus’s staccato chord stabs.
Gibbard understands the inevitability of friction and nothing promises (“He had sworn not to be what he’d been before/to be a remainder”) better than most. That he carries it off with an almost journalistic objectivity is all the more impressive. An unusually muscular arrangement takes it over the top, ensuring you’ll be humming the melody as well as picking apart the couplets for weeks to come. It’s all hugely impressive. If it came from anyone else, it’d be surprising.
Song: ‘Up for Breakfast’
Artist: Van Halen
Rating: Mad dog’s malachite
Halen (whom I’ll be referring to in shorthand throughout) have quality tunes - how you say? - up the wazoo. They also deserve credit for successfully outliving the loss of the much fancied “Diamond” Dave back in the day. But even the goodwill generated by ‘Panama’ isn’t enough to excuse them for this little doozy. If Jodie Marsh were a song…
Recovered from that thought? Ok. Well, it’s not about to get any better. ‘Up For Breakfast’ is a how-to manual for bad ‘double entendres.’ For example, “pump it up, pump it up, baby, make it bigger” and “she put the cream in my coffee…butter on my biscuit.” The lyrics are so offensively, increasingly bad that sooner or later thoughts of self-parody spring to mind. How else could “out the front door, leave the back door open/hot-tub, loosen up, baby, been soaking” make it in? Attempts to focus on the music are troubled by bon mots such as “You know I’m up for breakfast, first thing in the morning” Oh, Sammy. Must try harder.
Worse than the shameless/ful content, though, is the waste of an otherwise fine song. Even as a bed for unmitigated dirt, the band’s musicianship is obvious and ever-capable. After listening to a song like this, there can be only one palette cleanser. Listen to ‘Hot For Teacher’, immediately. And loud. Dave eases the pain.
Song: ‘Shut Up and Drive’*
Rating: Indecision time
When Rihanna beckons the listener to step into her “ride”, it’s a tempting offer. That said ride is a “fine-tuned supersonic speed machine” only sweetens the deal. See also the “gangsta lean.” However, for all her come-hither histrionics, ‘Shut Up and Drive’ hues closer to Hagar’s efforts than those of Death Cab. Not a good start. After little over half a minute, her cover is blown. She may as well have called the thing ‘Just Do It Already’** and had done with it.
Ok. But is clarity really such a bad thing? It didn’t help Halen, but it didn’t hurt Death Cab. By the pre-chorus, I, like much of the world, most certainly “feel” her. (What? She asked so I let her know!) She’s got a semi-interesting voice and a big, bouncy beat. Maybe, things are turning around? After all, being a pop song, the rules of engagement were always going to differ from those used on Sammy and chums.
That said, when so many attractive but unremarkable girls fast-track their way to fame with “sassy” antics (here's looking at you, Perry), I’m quickly all trashed out. Do women with “class” (be they real or a fictional ‘narrator’) rank plenty of *ahem* “room in the back” highly these days? Do guys? A quick glance at the video’s You Tube comments deepens my quandary. The general consensus is that the song is a success. Rihanna is a very attractive woman who is most welcome to ride in many a man’s, um, “ride.” Perhaps, SwEeT3ChLo says it best:
“bet dis makes da bois hornii lool” (sic.)
Quite. However, the only ‘obviously’ female comment, care of prettyracheal1, takes a tact similar to my own:
“lmao so gross when she sticks the cloth in her pants”
Granted, that line’s in reference to the video, but it’s all a rich tapestry.
This track treads Halen’s ill-fated line with dubious poise. If you listen, ire happens. If you follow your gut and listen only to the music, moves happen. As a pop song, then, it succeeds. It gets people going, is catchy, whatever. But is it a legitimately good song and not just stroke material for teenage misogynists? I continue to yo-yo, in the words of Bob Mould, “back and forth between the good and the bad.” Suggestions welcome.
*Yeah, I know this is an “old” song. It’s included for relevance, not timeliness. See also Halen.
**In homage to Katherine Heigl’s performance in Knocked Up, of course.
Ian Pratt learned everything he knows about romance from the male anchormen of Channel 4 News. His testes, however, remain unnamed.