2/14/2008

One of those fucking awful black days.

There's a style of music coming out of the UK right now that I'm a big fan of, a style that mixes typical British pop melodicism with a slight edge of punk rock snottiness and comes out somewhere between The Kinks and The Jam. I've liked pretty much every band in this style I've heard--with the notable exception of The Arctic Monkeys, who have a couple good songs but for the most part do nothing for me. My favorites, though, are Maximo Park, a band I learned about through The Big Takeover, so when editor/publisher Jack Rabid came out in favor of The Cribs, a trio made up of a set of twins and their younger brother, I figured I'd better check them out. I quickly obtained a copy of their newest album, "Men's Needs, Women's Needs, Whatever", and loved it from first listen. The style The Cribs play doesn't require a great deal of description, and therefore it would be easy for them to seem generic by now, as the 18th band, give or take, that I've heard playing that style. However, if anything the opposite is true--their catchy choruses and excellent melodic riffing makes them stand out from the other groups around them. Unlike some of these bands, they've got a good bit more going for them than an immediately recognizable style.

They further distinguish themselves by having excellent lyrics, especially on songs like "Our Bovine Public", which mocks all of the Brit-pop Johnny-come-latelies hopping on their stylistic bandwagon and hoping to replicate the success of The Libertines and The Arctic Monkeys. "You'd never exist if you wasn't generic," they sing. "You'll have to impress our bovine public." At the end of the song, they further twist the knife, stating "I'll never regret anything that I've done, but you'd never exist without us, so maybe I do." The validity of a seemingly new band taking these sorts of potshots increases when you discover, as I did only recently, that "Men's Needs, Women's Needs, Whatever" is actually their third album, and that they've been playing in this style since long before it was popular.

After this opening salvo, they turn towards more standard woes, mostly about girls. On "Girls Like Mystery", they mock the way girls often seem more interested in guys that are enigmatic and unapproachable. "There's not much to say for me, but that's OK--you know that girls like mystery." But this is a character, and on the choruses they revert to their true selves and lament the uncomfortable flipside of this fascination with enigma: "They say love me til the end; they only see me as a friend." By being open, being friendly, they find themselves removed from the pool of possible dates. I've sure been there.

Possibly the best song on the album, though, both musically and lyrically, is "Men's Needs". It's a bit slower than most of the songs here, and has what is without a doubt the catchiest chorus on the album. The song is expressed as an argument with a female friend, so there's still some frustration with the naivete of some women. This song follows "Girls Like Mystery" on the album, and its sentiments are pretty similar in the end, but this time, The Cribs turn their lyrical frustration and cynicism away from women to focus on the men that prey on them. "Have you noticed I've never been impressed with your friends from New York and London," they begin. "I'll level accusations like the press until you realize you've dressed yourself in tatters." It's a poetic way to say it, but what this really means is: the fancy boys you hang out with are all just egomaniac assholes underneath it all. You could do much better. The chorus seems to constitute a response--"A man's needs are full of greed", but this doesn't wash with the singer, who swears "A man's needs are lost on me," his point being that he doesn't find himself "needing" these things which his female friend seems to accept as inherent in men. By the end of the song, he's declaring "You say your man's needs apply to me. I don't agree." One wonders whether he eventually convinced his friend to expect more from men's natures. I can't help but hope so.

There's one more song that I want to mention from this album, and in fact it's the one that made me want to write this entry in the first place. "Be Safe", the tenth of twelve tracks on this album, is a complete departure, both musically and lyrically, from the rest of the album. A dark, brooding, indie-rock jam, it stretches out to six minutes, making it twice the length of most of the tracks on this album. The vocals mostly consist of a long monologue delivered by guest vocalist Lee Ranaldo of Sonic Youth, who begins with a paragraph fitting the musical mood of the song: "One of those fucking awful black days when nothing is pleasing and everything that happens is an excuse for anger. An outlet for emotions stockpiled, an arsenal, an armour. These are the days when I hate the world, hate the rich, hate the happy, hate the complacent, the TV watchers, beer drinkers, the satisfied ones. Because I know I can be all of those little hateful things and then I hate myself for realising that." From there, it grows more abstract, and as the music builds towards what passes for a chorus on the song--a section that is incredibly restrained compared to the huge pop hooks on most of this album's choruses--Cribs vocalists Ryan and Gary Jarman sing the song's title over and over in the background. When the chorus finally arrives, they sing a line that seems to have nothing to do with Ranaldo's monologue: "I know a place we could go where you'll fall in love so hard that you'll wish you were dead." They sing it four times on each chorus, but by the time they've made it through the line once, Ranaldo has resumed his recitation, which slowly develops a somewhat linear thrust. By the end, he seems to be talking about a relationship that has ended, but he's speaking metaphorically, discussing a movie that's suddenly missing its lead character. At this point, the chorus starts to make a little more sense, but it's all so abstract. In the end, though, the abstraction is a good thing. The frustrated, depressed feel of the song is something I can relate to on a lot of levels, and by keeping the lyrics abstract, it makes it relatable to more situations. I don't know why I tend to find comfort when I'm sad, angry, or depressed in songs that reflect just as bad a mood as the one I'm in, but the fact remains that I do, and I'm pretty sure this will be a song I come back to for a long time. I would link to the lyrics, but unfortunately, I haven't found any reproductions on the internet that are 100% accurate. Therefore, I've decided to reproduce my own transcription in full at the end of this entry. Feel free to skip it if you want, but you're missing out if you do.

The Cribs - Men's Needs
The Cribs - Be Safe

One of those fucking awful black days when nothing is pleasing and everything that happens is an excuse for anger. An outlet for emotions stockpiled, an arsenal, an armour. These are the days when I hate the world, hate the rich, hate the happy, hate the complacent, the TV watchers, beer drinkers, the satisfied ones. Because I know I can be all of those little hateful things and then I hate myself for realising that. There's no preventative, directive or safe approach for living. We each know our own fate. We know from our youth how to be treated, how we'll be received, how we shall end. These things don't change. You can change your clothes, change your hairstyle, your friends, cities, continents but sooner or later your own self will always catch up. Always it waits in the wings. Ideas swirl but don't stick. They appear but then run off like rain on the windshield. One of those rainy day car rides my head imploded, the atmosphere in this car a mirror of my skull. Wet, damp, windows dripping and misted with cold. Walls of grey. Nothing good on the radio, not a thought in my head.

[Be safe. Be safe. Be safe. Be safe.

I know a place we could go where you'll fall in love so hard that you'll wish you were dead.]

Let's take life and slow it down incredibly slow, frame by frame with two minutes that take ten years to live out. Yeah, let's do that.

Telephone poles like praying mantis against the sky, metal arms outstretched. So much land travelled, so little sense made of it. It doesn't mean a thing, all this land laid out behind us. I'd like to take off into these woods and get good and lost for a while. I'm disgusted with petty concerns; parking tickets, breakfast specials. Does someone just have to carry this weight? Abstract topography, methane covenant, linear gospel, Asheville sales lady, stygian emissary, torturous lice, mad Elizabeth. Chemotherapy bullshit.

[Be safe. Be safe. Be safe. Be safe.

I know a place we could go where you'll fall in love so hard that you'll wish you were dead.]

The light within me shines like a diamond mine, like an armed walrus, like a dead man face down on a highway. Like a snake eating its own tail, steam turbine, frog pond, two full closets burst open in disarray, soap bubbles in the sun, hospital death bed, red convertible, shopping list, blowjob, death's head, devils dancing, bleached white buildings, memory, movements, the movie unpeeling, unreeling, about to begin.

I've seen your hallway, you're a dark hallway, I hear your stairs creak. I can fix my mind on your yes, and your no. I'll film your face today in the sparkling canals, all red, yellow, blue, green brilliance and silver Dutch reflection. Racing thoughts, racing thoughts. All too real, you're moving so fast now I can't hold your image. This image I have of your face by the window, me standing beside you, arm on your shoulder. A catalogue of images, flashing glimpses then gone again.

I'm tethered to this post you've sunk inside me, and every clear afternoon now I'll think of you up in the air twisting your heel, your knees up around me, my face in your hair. You scream so well, your smile so loud it still rings in my ears.

[I know a place we could go where you'll fall in love so hard that you'll wish you were dead.]

Inefficient, distant, tired of longing. Cleaning my teeth. Stay the course. Hold the wheel. Steer on to freedom. Open all the boxes.

Open all the boxes.

Open all the boxes.

Open all the boxes.

Times Square midday: newspaper buildings, news headlines going around, we watch as they go, and hope for some good ones. Those tree shadows in the park here, all whispering, shkk-sing leaves around six pm. Shadows across the cobblestones. Girl in front of bathroom mirror. She slow and careful paints her face green, mask-like. Like Matisse, "Portrait With Green Stripe". Long shot through apartment window, a monologue on top but no girl in shot. The light within me shines like a diamond mine, like an unarmed walrus, like a dead man face down on the highway. Like a snake eating its own tail, a steam turbine, frog pond, two full closets burst open in disarray, soap bubbles in the sun, hospital death bed, red convertible, shopping list, blowjob, death's head, devils dancing, bleached white buildings, memory movements. The movie unpeeling, unreeling, about to begin.

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2 Comments:

OpenID paperdubs said...

Man, you're kicking ass on some posts lately. Keep 'em coming.

5:08 PM  
Anonymous Simon said...

It's funny, I'm always turned off these bands (British guitar bands) because of the championing by the NME and all that lot. The reviews are always so full of brown nosing, then about a year later I'll read a (usually) American's review of said band(s) and they'll actually DESCRIBE the album. And in the end they (the bands) end up becoming favourites of mine, because the piece was actually well written. It's like British writers can't really describe an album in any sort of detail any more. So, needless to say I shall be checking this album out.

10:44 AM  

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