Friday, 29 August 2014

Welcome Home (Coheed and Cambria)

If you enjoy this song, please be respectful of its creators by buying it on Google Play or iTunes.

About two weeks ago, I started writing a Song of the Moment entry about ‘Brothers in Arms’, but unfortunately that moment was subverted by nearly unbearable work pressure. Today, I am so taken with a newer song that I’m afraid Mark Knopfler’s masterpiece will have to wait.

I have recently been blessed with a veritable deluge of breathtaking music, courtesy of a new compatriot at my day job. Although I have many favourites from this fresh collection, ‘Welcome Home’ is the one composition that has arrested my imagination most aggressively.

In many ways, this is a song of contradictions. For example, the relentless onslaught of the musical arrangement is wildly original, while also carrying distinct hallmarks of Led Zeppelin -- in terms of its Wermacht-scale monumentality as much as Claudio Sanchez’s nonpareil vocal performance.

The tempestuous gale of wailing split harmonics gives the guitar work unearthly and demonic overtones, at the same time as evoking an impression of nature’s fury unleashed. Lyrically, the sentiments oscillate between the violent reprisal of a lover spurned, and a poignant lament about unrequited adoration. Even the dynamics and structure of the song fluctuate from rage to tenderness and back again, yet at no moment is there the slightest digression from a consistent overall integrity.

This song comes from an album entitled Good Apollo, I'm Burning Star IV, Volume One: From Fear Through the Eyes of Madness -- and while my love of verbosity is not something I would attempt to conceal, it is the firestorm of imagination compressed into this title that I respond to most strongly. And I’m not even going to start ranting about the fact that this is a concept album and ‘Welcome Home’ is only one of the scenes that comprise its narrative.

Although the abstractions in the lyrics are not quite so intensely non-sequitur, I have always been deeply moved by writers who are capable of building a cohesive whole from seemingly unrelated and often quite surreal montages of imagery. Jim Morrison and T. S. Eliot are among my favourite poets largely for this reason, and in my opinion -- whether this is through words, sculpture, cinematography or any other form of expression -- the ability to elicit a powerful aesthetic response with such disparate flashes of thought, is the purest form of art.

There is much more to the words in this song than merely an ability to create order from randomness. Lines such as “You stormed off to scar the armada” or “With truth on the shores of compassion” indicate a real talent for wordsmithing, and convey a clear visual impression despite their independence from literal interpretation.

Lexical agility notwithstanding, the overwhelming ethos of the lyric is as exorbitant and overstated as the music. The sheer conviction with which Sanchez spits out, “Now get in the ground” and “Like Jesus ... I’ll drill through your hands” is equal parts caricaturish and sinister. It’s not unlike when a person one doesn’t know very well throws down a distinctly ludicrous threat that is nevertheless within their power to follow through on, and their deadpan delivery makes one uncertain as to whether or not they are really joking.

For me, there is great richness in music -- as well as in other forms of art -- that is confronting to some degree, I find it more stimulating and engaging than what I would describe as things that are easy to absorb. ‘Welcome Home’ represents a listening experience that is unnerving to say the least, but it is also a conflagration of incredibly intense creativity whose terrible beauty must be heard to be appreciated.

Check it out on YouTube

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Blurry (Puddle of Mudd)

If you enjoy this song, please be respectful of its creators by buying it on Google Play or iTunes.

This song is not all that amazing, objectively speaking, but it is intimately enmeshed in my history and has a special place in my heart. It’s one of the songs that reminds me of a person I was in love with for longer than anyone else; I met her when I started university and the magic persisted way into my 20s.

She was one of only two people I ever fell in love with ‘at first sight’, although technically speaking I didn’t really give her a second look in the first instance. But as with the other person I’m referring to, it was something that she said within probably 60 seconds of being in my proximity, that comprehensively blew my fucking mind. I physically felt the state of being in love wash over me “with the cold, sudden fury of a divine messenger”, to quote Jim Morrison, and from that moment I worshipped the divine aspect of her for years.

Although we hung out and talked on a number of occasions, she was never single at the same time as me, and even if she had been, I doubt that she would have been interested. To give you a glimpse of how far out of my league she was: she’d spend weekends climbing at Mt Arapiles and her mom was a professor who wrote the biology textbook I studied from.

Sadly -- and perhaps as a direct result of the psychotic intensity of my feelings for her -- I regularly behaved in the most inexpressibly moronic ways when I was around her. She was very patient and tolerant of this bugfuck insanity; even though I was never off my brain on drugs in her presence, I might as well have been tripping on a whole cocktail of hallucinogenics, considering some of the shit that came out of my mouth. I physically cringe to this day when I remember how inconceivably stupid I was, and I am agonised with regret that her concept of me is probably distant by a matter of light years from who I actually am today -- which is completely understandable in light of my actions.

Years later I briefly resumed contact with her, although I can’t exactly remember what sparked the communication. I had a chat with her online a few times, even helped her tighten up her CV for a prospective job in Canada; by that time my obsessive fixation had dissipated, and it was lovely to just be ‘normal’ friends without that extra factor complicating things from my end.

Tragically there was some residual neurotransmitter bullshit, and when talking to her at length I once again started coming out with such ridiculously bizarre shit that my mind actively boggles to explain it. It was very much like what Jim Morrison said about being “a sensitive, intelligent human being, but with the soul of a clown that forces me to blow it at the most crucial moment.” I don’t know, perhaps being fatally in love brings out my inner drugfucked poet.

It absolutely breaks my fucking heart, because despite all my stupidity, and regardless of my former fondness for this individual, I had the opportunity to leave a lasting, positive impression -- and I fucked it up.

Long ago, I made this person a mixtape (on CD), comprised mostly of the songs I’d written for her over the years, including the best composition I’ve ever managed to squeeze out. ‘Blurry’ was one of the tracks on it that wasn’t by me.

Even though the lyrics are not all that applicable -- considering her proficiency in Wing Chun, it would have been her  protecting my  ass, for example -- she and I were rarely in the same country at the same time, and the plaintive yet respectful tone of “I wonder what you’re doing, imagine where you are” really resonated with me. Also, this song was popular at a time when I was thinking about her a lot, so whenever I hear it, part of my consciousness is transported to an era in my youth when I was callow and irresponsible, but overall, happy and untroubled.

Which brings me to the present moment. Another song I recently dusted off made me think of this one with increasing frequency over the last two weeks or so. And this morning, right on the buzzer of 0400, I was wakened by ‘Blurry’ playing on my neighbour’s radio. It’s not a song that gets frequent airplay, so it took on the significance of what you might call a transmission from the infinite. I was thus inspired to charge out of bed like a rocket, as the old saying goes, and the whole preceding phylum of my life was precipitated into this Song of the Moment.

Check it out on YouTube

Saturday, 11 January 2014

The One And Only (Chesney Hawkes)

If you enjoy this song, please be respectful of its creator by buying it on Google Play or iTunes.

I was faced with a bit of a dilemma before posting this song, because on one hand, I believe being genuine is a cornerstone of living honestly. But on the other hand, some (small) degree of credibility is valuable. And let’s face it, this is a more than slightly cheesy number.

Then again, I had no issue with posting something by Def Leppard in this section -- although in fairness, for all their talent, that band is such a heat-sink for credibility that I didn’t have much to worry about. Secondly, I maintain that ‘The One And Only’ is an exceptionally well-written song, and thirdly, I am not embarrassed to admit, I have been listening to it a great deal lately -- and it’s made me feel like a million bucks. Because, most importantly of all, I think the message of this song is just brilliant -- and it’s delivered with a degree of artism and panache that belies its radio-friendly packaging.

Nik Kershaw, the person who penned this track, is an individual for whom I have no shortage of respect as a songwriter. His 80s classic, ‘Wouldn’t it be good’, had a strong formative effect during my childhood -- in no small part because of the meteorically creative PV, which in my opinion is among the best ever made. ‘The Riddle’, as well, speaks volumes about its author -- for all the random-ass stream-of-consciousness bullshit that it ostensibly is, it’s a long way from meaningless.

Kershaw has taken great care with the mechanics of ‘One And Only’, such as the rhyme and phrasing, while also building his argument in a way that is both accessible and inclusive (“you are the one and only you”). It’s performed by Chesney Hawkes, who was a very good-looking young man at the time this song hit the charts. But in addition to his big coif and innate charisma, he has a fantastic pair of lungs, and he carries off this radiant assertion of self-belief with sincerity and conviction.

By my standards, such a soaring affirmation of individual identity in the face of popular opposition is a quality that should be encouraged at every opportunity. In high school, I used to get beaten up on a daily basis because of how different I was to everyone else. Yet it was inconceivable to me that I should be anything but myself, and I was proud to continue being true to my values instead of acquiescing. At the time, songs such as this one reinforced my determination to prevail.

It is only in retrospect that I realise how significant a victory that was -- while also appreciating how important it is to support others who are struggling to shine in their own way despite being surrounded by hostile, cowardly mediocrity.

To me, that’s exactly what this song is all about.

Check it out on YouTube