these are four different songs

Some recent musical acquisitions. Find the hidden thread!

Gentle Giant “Proclamation” (The Power and the Glory): Another chance to get in touch with my inner prog-head. In six or so minutes, these guys put down enough musical ideas to fill a lot of other folks’ albums (and about enough notes, too…). The most obvious non-rock influences on Gentle Giant’s music (not all that audible in this track) are madrigals and baroque counterpoint – influences which admirably serve the band’s interest in complexity but also mark them out from other proggers. Note also that the electric piano rhythm bit is funky enough to have been sampled by hip-hoppers (or so I read once somewhere on the InterSoT…). The last little snippet belongs to the next track: early Capitol CD indexed by feral children.

Lou Reed “The Bells” (The Bells): Some of this album is terribly cheesy, at times sounding almost like the music they (used to?) play at the end of Saturday Night Live – but there are also some inspired bits of weirdness (like this track), some rare moments of non-ironic emotionality, and (both cheesy and inspired) the immortal “Disco Mystic” (that’s its entire lyric). That’s jazzer Don Cherry (also father of Neneh and, uh, Eagle-Eye) blatting away on the trumpet.

I picked up a couple of tribute albums as well. I don’t care: I’m always curious what people do with songs I like, even I don’t like what they do with them. Here are two tracks that I do like.

Okkervil River “Riot Act” (Almost You: The Songs of Elvis Costello): This has always been one of my favorite EC songs, its lyric managing the neat trick of seeming prickly and defensive if taken as directed outward, shame-filled and self-hating if directed inward. (It was written after the Ray Charles incident, about which Costello later wrote far more openly.) Okkervil River play it pretty straight, shifting the arrangement and production just enough to make it interesting – and Will Sheff’s vocals are finely felt.

The Wrens “They’ll Need a Crane” (Hello Radio: The Songs of They Might Be Giants): Boy, those nutty Johns – they’re so goofy and funny and light-hearted and geeky, aren’t they? Laugh…ha-ha. That that’s the prevailing impression of the band proves only that too many people are almost painfully unaware of any sort of emotional complexity (flashback to happy loving couples swaying blissfully at a concert to the strains of R.E.M. playing “The One I Love” – yeesh, oblivious much?). I suppose in some ways the Wrens’ choice to play this one slow and quiet is maybe too obvious – now that the lyrics aren’t swathed in Linnell’s gloriously catchy and rapidfire tune-wrangling – but that’s not all they do with the track. You’ll note that the Wrens have moved the Freudian slip of a bridge to an audio-verite intro, and allowed the track to build slowly to a simmer, rather than either explode or (as in the original) carry on in blissful semi-denial.

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1 Comment

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One response to “these are four different songs

  1. Tris McCall

    all these years listening to *get happy!!* and it never occurred to me that “riot act” was about the ray charles incident. of course it is. they’re going to have to revoke my degre in costelloology.

    funny to hear an emo frontman sing “don’t put your heart out on your sleeve/ when your remarks are off the cuff”. but you know i love will sheff.

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