Monday, August 17, 2009
#136. 'Show me a garden that's bursting into life'
Unabashed romanticism is one of those qualities in a song that can easily veer into the realms of the maudlin. The right amount of it makes for greatness as far as love songs are concerned, but too little comes off as overly tentative and too much comes off as...well, Dianne Warren's career. Getting it right takes practice, or at least incredible amounts of dumb luck. Of course the biggest thing that connects the songs I'm thinking about when I talk about getting it right is their simplicity. They don't cloud the sentiment in metaphor or elaborate wordplay, they just come right out and say it. Or in some cases they don't say it at all.
The idea behind "Chasing Cars" on a pure lyrical level sounds a it cliched, but coupled with the musical accompaniment and singer Gary Lightbody's fragile croon and it's sold more than well enough. The idea that more important than being told 'I love you' is being able to just lay down with each other and forget everything else just works in this context, and it's a sentiment that has probably sunk more budding relationships than it's started. It's an unabashedly romantic notion, and any other method of delivery could come off as needy, manipulative or downright creepy. Lightbody avoids all those possible pitfalls by making it fully up to whoever he's talking to whether they want it or not; it's a question as opposed to a statement so the undertone is much more emotionally resonant than it would be otherwise.
But would it be here if not for the music? Obviously not. After that whole dissertation about the way an effective climax can make or break a song you don't think I'd talk about this one without re-appraising that part of the equation do you. I remember someone on a long lost thread over at RYM said that this was a more effective crescendo than 90% of post rock, and I'm inclined to agree with that ruling if not for one thing: the crescendo is mostly an illusion. It's a damned effective illusion, but an illusion none the less. There's the gradual addition of elements to the mix but as far as actual crescendoing goes it's not exactly a slow build to an explosive climax. The song rest s at a slow boil for two and a half minutes, starting with a surprisingly effective two-note guitar motif and gradually adding layers to the mix that may increase the tension but not the actual volume.
The key is that instead of building the tension to its breaking point and just letting go, the band builds the tension and then stops for a little bit before they actually bring the volume into play. In it's own way that little 'ping' that separates the tension building from the release is the star of the song. Without it you've got a much more rote crescendo (just imagine if the near silence was instead replaced by that one chord being strummed as increasing volume until it reached the point it winds up at) and you're robbed of the sheer spectacle of the band crashing in during the 'If I lay here,' which is one of more effective little chill moments in pop music this decade. It's like the gradual fade down in Mogwai's "Like Herod" applied to balladry, making the climax more effective and itself adding a new layer of tension to the procession.
While the climax might be overshadowed by that brief pause it's notable for throwing caution to the wind as far as the romanticism goes. One of the more effective tricks Lightbody uses here is adding to the chorus every time it gets repeated, starting off with one triplet of verse, adding a second the second time around and then revealing the full chorus as the song reaches it's highest point. It's a variation on the (overused in my opinon) trick of changing a single line in the final repetition of the chorus to add a new layer to the song, but instead of altering the perception al lit does here is deepen the state of romantic bliss the song's trying to portray. Use that last half of the final chorus as the song's building up and the game is given away, but withhold them further and it just seems incomplete. They're the closure the song needs to be a piece as opposed to a fragment, and they also manage to toe that line of unabashed romanticism that the song's been balanced on the whole way through.
Coming up tomorrow: How one of the most disappointing follow up albums of the decade spawned the band's best single or wall of noise wins again.