Archive for December, 2010

Glimpsed for one shining moment

December 23, 2010

I’m a pop romantic really. That is to say, I’m a soppy get when the mood takes me. That mood can be brought about by drunkenness, tiredness, feeling especially down, feeling exquisitely happy or any number of other factors. But let’s say, for instance, that it’s a miserable, grey, wet Tuesday morning in November, and I am hungover, resentful of the fact that I am on a bus headed towards crappy ol’ work, and in the middle of one of those self-indulgent phases where one begins to suspect one is wasting one’s life. All it takes is for me to drift off into the other realm that my headphones create, and listen to Craig Finn reminding me that “getting older makes it harder to remember: we are our only saviours”. Suddenly I’m choking back tears, because he has nailed exactly what I need to hear.

By the same token, I could be helplessly drunk watching a Sebadoh reunion show, cheered by the alcohol, the company and the fact that I’m in the presence of one of my all-time musical heroes. Suddenly the chorus of Brand New Love kicks in, and it’s not just the words, but the buzz of that guitar mixed with the understated sadness of the melody. Lou’s honeyed vocal just sounds so fucking right. Once again the lump builds up in my throat.

And that’s exactly how I want it – I love the fact that music (and, indeed, art in general) can tell me something about myself, whether that be an emotion I’d not quite previously registered summed up neatly in a perfectly-composed phrase, or a key change that makes me feel infinite and invincible. That’s precisely what art should do, and whilst wanting to burst into tears during these moments of lucidity is probably a bit sappy, I don’t really mind. I’m always unsure as to whether anyone else feels like this. Do they? Maybe it matters, I don’t know. It probably doesn’t. What does matter is that sometimes pop music gives you a greater understanding of everything, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.

This very morning I realised that The Flaming Lips’ A Change At Christmas (Say It Isn’t So) fits into this category superbly. There’s only one video of the song on Youtube, and Warner Brothers have disabled the audio track, so I’m afraid I can’t furnish y’all with a link. Instead, I’ll describe it to you.

The music is less cinematic and more subtle than the usual Lips fare, placing sweetly minimalistic piano chords over a stuttering mid-paced drum beat. Synth strings sweep across the top with a wistful, building melody before Wayne Coyne makes an appearance. His voice sounds painfully honest in its lower register, as he plaintively tells us the following story:

I know that everything changes
Yeah, it’s strange how time marches on
Well, maybe there’ll be some time in the future
Oh, tell me
(I’m not wrong)
Tell me I’m not wrong

Oh, if I could stop time
It would be a frozen moment just around Christmas
When all of mankind reveals its truest potential
And there is sympathy for the suffering
And there is sympathy for those who are suffering

And the world embraces peace and love and mercy
Instead of power and fear and as sure as I’m standing here
I swear it really does appear that a change comes over us
Yes, some kind of change comes over us

And it’s glimpsed, it’s glimpsed it for one shining moment
And this change, well, feels like a change that’s real
But then it passes along with the season
And then we, we just go back to the way we were
Yeah, we go back to the way we were

And say it isn’t so
(Say it isn’t so)
Tell me I’m not just a dreamer
(I’m not just a dreamer)
Tell me ’cause I’m talking with a friend
And he knows how it ends

He says it’s easier, he says that
That’s just the way we are
That it’s human nature
And that’s just the way we are

Say it isn’t so
Say it isn’t so
Say it isn’t so

Admittedly I was underslept, slightly hungover and a little emotional this morning, but hearing this song whilst braving the ice on Old Hall Street in Liverpool’s business district was like a perfect moment of clarity. The verses are self-explanatory, but the hook (which pulls off that neat trick of only happening right at the end, but turning into a mesmeric singalong) is the crucial part. ‘Say it isn’t so’ sounds like a phrase right out of the whiner’s handbook. Hell, Weezer turned it into an almighty whinge on their superlative first album – a mantra for the dumped.

But here Coyne is doing something different.The situation is laid out for us: Christmas is the one time of year when suddenly we all get it and start being nice to each other, but then we revert when it’s over because that’s just in our nature. When he leaps into his upper register to cry out the hook, he isn’t saying ‘aw man, really? That’s shit.‘ He’s inviting us to join in with him and deny that negativity is in out nature. It’s designed to be one ecstatic call to all; an affirmation of the wonderful spirit of community and happiness that we’re all capable of if we just put our minds to it. Like all the best Flaming Lips songs, it’s in awe of the minutiae of existence. Dammit, it’s a celebration of what it is to be human. It isn’t so, Wayne! I’m with you! We’re all with you!

Yeh, yeh, fuck off, hippy,’ you’re possibly thinking. I don’t care. I’m too busy loving the words, the melody and the moment, and trying to keep the tears in at the beauty of it all. Because these moments are what it’s all supposed to be about.

This is pop music, and this is life.

Merry Christmas, all.


Christmas Songs

December 11, 2010

Every Christmas we all complain about the dearth of decent seasonal tunes. Last year Rage Against The fucking Machine managed to get the festive number one spot, thanks to the efforts of rockist dullards on the internet. It’s not that I find Simon Cowell’s X Factor production line preferable – lord know I’ve pulled enough badly-formed shapes on the dancefloor to Killing In The Name – but I was mildly irked by the hypocrisy of rock fans who decry the charts at every available opportunity. “It’d be a victory for democracy,” I was repeatedly informed. Except it wasn’t. It was a victory for consumerism, which is quite different. Of course the best thing to do when mildly irked is to pretend to be utterly outraged, which I did at every available opportunity, narking a few friends in the process.

In any case, the real reason RATM were bollocks at Christmas is that it wasn’t a fucking Christmas song. In the season of goodwill and all that jazz (albeit disappointingly little jazz), I present to you some of my favourite seasonal singalongs. Feel free to pour scorn or present alternative:

1. Low – Just Like Christmas

2. The Jacobites – Teenage Christmas

3. Eux Autres – Another Christmas At Home

4. Run DMC – Christmas Is

5. El Vez – Feliz Navi-Nada

an honourable mention must also go to Lucy Loves Schroeder’s festive Breeders take-off, which is horrendously good fun.


Christmas, kids.

w x

p.s. sorry it took me so long to get back on the ball. AGAIN.