September 11, 2007

I Got the Current Seat, But I'm Heaven Sent

In a little-remembered tidbit from Poor Richardâs Almanack, Ben Franklin counseled that a band whose first two albums have been regarded as musically breathtaking but lyrically idiotic should think very carefully about the opening lines of their third major release. Interpolâs third album, the somewhat stupidly titled Our Love to Admire, has been out for a couple of months now, so I am perhaps late in musing that they would have done better to heed Franklinâs advice. I also suspect that mocking Interpol lyrics only differs from shooting fish in a barrel in the following two ways: first, itâs something a lot of people actually do, and second, itâs probably easier; I, for example, do not know how to shoot a gun and do not have ready access to either a barrel or a stock of fish massive enough that I might actually hit them.

Just to get this retread out of the way, many of us can rattle off our favorite lyrical boners from Turn on the Bright Lights:

âMy best friendâs from Poland and, um, he has a beard?â

âLetâs see about this ham?â [????!]

and Antics:

âIâm timeless like a broken watch,
I make money like Fred Astaire?â [God, it still makes you cringe, doesnât it?]

There are a few of these on Our Love to Admire, but I think the single worst instance occurs at the very beginning of the very first song. We wait with bated breath â will these guys finally come up with some lyrics that make sense? â and whatâs the first thing we get?

âShow me the dirt pile and I will pray that the soul can take
Three stowaways.â

I submit to you that when people are watching your new album for signs of a slightly new musical direction and slightly less ill-advised wording, âShow me the dirt pileâ is kind of an inauspicious place to start. This is basic armchair psychology: youâre getting people ramped up for the new album. âShow me the nonstop repertoire of new face-meltersâ would be a good direction to take it in. âDirt pile,â not so much. In addition, why is it that the soul needs to take precisely three stowaways? Huh? A verse and a half later we get:

âBut if itâs still pretty what with all these leaves
Weâll be fine, oh, and supervise.â

âSuperviseâ is not a very atmospheric word, nor is it clear what we are supervising. The closest guess I can manage is that we are standing with a clipboard ensuring that no soul takes more than the regulation three (3) allotted stowaways, and trying not to be so distracted what with all these pretty leaves that we accidentally allow some to slip through with four (4). By the time the song opens up with the business about âYou tried straight into my heart, you fly straight into my heart,â weâre finally in the classic Interpol zone where weâre so relieved to have a line we can sing along with and that sounds like, you know, a song lyric, that weâre no longer worried about whether it has anything to do with the rest of the song. Or, for that matter, whether it is possible to âtryâ intransitively or directionally, as the above lyric suggests.

Turn on the Bright Lights and Antics were both full of these moments. Iâve had an ongoing disagreement with my friend Erik about one I really like and that he simply canât stand. Iâm one of the people who simply love Antics. Love, love, love: there isnât a song on there I donât like, Iâm always in the mood for it, I rarely skip around because I think the albumâs composition is so good. Plus, a lot of the songs on there showcase what is hands-down the best thing about this band, which is their rhythm section, and I love that the drumming on âNot Even Jailâ sounds like one of those toys I had as a kid that was basically a beach ball with a giant rubber band stuck to it. Or what that would have sounded like if someone had been standing behind me playing a moody and powerful bass line. But I digress. The song âTake You on a Cruiseâ begins quite stupidly with the afore-quoted business about timelessness being like a broken watch (boo!) and the strangely non-sequitorial assertion about making money like Fred Astaire, which assertion does not even have the proper metrical value demanded by the line. Then the song unfolds, and at the end we get that awesome, albeit somewhat inexplicable, outro about

âWhite goddess, red goddess, black temptress of the sea you treat me right.â

While I understand that itâs sort of dumb, I like it. I like that the colors and goddesses/temptresses are recombined in subsequent iterations of the line. I like, again, that itâs sing-along-able, and although it doesnât really stand up to scrutiny, if you donât think about it too hard it kind of seems sexy and swaggery. Of course, this last assertion is basically true of 100% of their songs, as is the fact that they seem to be attempting an interesting variation on the normal approach to songwriting, in which they make the beginning of every song clunky and fumbly and save all the really good hooks for the end.

Our Love to Admire seems in general to be continuing this trend, although I find it generally a flatter album than either of the first two. It doesnât, at least so far, seem to have quite so much of either the breathtakingly awful or the breathtakingly brilliant. Itâs more or less as if an entire albumâs worth of Antics B-sides had turned up out of nowhere, and while it all sounds satisfyingly like Interpol, in the two months since the album dropped none of the songs has really grabbed me by the ears and forced me to listen to it over and over. However, even if these guys are staying in their well-trodden musical path to the degree that most of the songs fall under the category of âmore of the same,â lyrically theyâve found some new ways to get weird in. I might even call it psychedelic, because Iâm not sure what else to do with this, from âMammothâ:

âThere are seven ancient pawnshops along the road
And the seven aching daddies you may want to know.â

Itâs like Interpol doing âStairway to Heaven.â Sort of. Or these lines from âWho Do You Think?,â all of which defy any attempts to parse them, either grammatically or logically:

âLet go now to the coast of hypnotic we go.â

âAnd from the birth strings of life I go right.â

âBy interest strike leading out of despair I know you follow the body.â

Each is like a stilted but somewhat charming telegram message not just from the coast of hypnotic, but from somewhere well out into the waters of perplexing:



In âPace is the Trick,â we are informed that some unidentified âitâ is like sleaze in the park, which I think would be a cute theme for a municipal picnic,* and in âMammothâ we get a suggestion of what the main entertainment at that picnic might be: âNow we should dance like two fucking twins.â Itâs even money whether the tinge of incest is deliberate or accidental. And then there's the line which gives this entry its title: "I got the current seat, but I'm heaven sent." The current seat at the sleaze picnic? You have to pop back up to heaven and need someone to watch your chair? Is there any chance that's what you're trying to say?

The greatest thing Our Love to Admire has to offer is, ultimately, an explanation for three albumsâ worth of lyrical confoundedness. In âWho Do You Think?â we are told, âControlling the agents takes a toll on my brain,â and now it all makes sense. Our poor lyricist has been kidnapped, hypnotized with large amounts of incest porn, and turned into a sort of killing command central who controls the murderous movements of seven aching field operatives with his mind. That pretty much leaves little mental bandwidth for coherence; in fact, itâs all he can do to drop hints and pleas for help into the songs.

There is, however, one thing I refuse to forgive. This is the opening stanza from the song âHeinrich Maneuverâ (argh, with the puns already!):

âHow are things on the West Coast?
I hear you movin' real fine
You wear those shoes like a dove
Now strut those shoes
We'll go roaming in the night.â

No. Doves do not wear shoes. This is simply out of line.

* The research department has just informed the author that this is already known as the Folsom Street Fair.

Posted by katie at September 11, 2007 01:39 AM

I laughed so hard at this entry -- and pre-coffee, too -- that it was worth signing into Typepad to tell you so. Excellent start to the morning. Particularly the thing about the doves. Also reminding me I've been kind of slacking in my own CD reviews lately, which should be much more like this. Bravo.

Posted by: didofoot at September 11, 2007 07:42 AM

I'm with Kris -- this whole thing is delightful, but the last line (pre-asterisk) is the part currently responsible for my inability to breathe properly. This is what it sounds like when doves laugh so hard they teeter out of their chair and hit their knee on their desk and kind of whimper while still laughing.

Posted by: Dianna at September 11, 2007 08:51 AM

Someone just asserted to me that my titular line is actually "I got no currency, but I'm heaven cent." I think that this is both incorrect and worse, so I'm rejecting it out of hand.

Thanks for taking my side about the dove shoes, by the way. I mean, sheesh.

Posted by: katie at September 11, 2007 03:33 PM