Monday, November 23, 2009

#38. 'I'm just a crosshair'

Franz Ferdinand "Take Me Out"

The practice of taking a few seemingly unrelated songs and fusing them together has been going on for a long time. I know that The Beatles' "Happiness Is a Warm Gun" seems to be the most commonly states starting point for this practice, but I don't doubt that there were others before that who had two compositions that might not have worked on their own but found new life when fused together. It's a tricky thing to pull off with any sort of aplomb; if the transitions between the different parts aren't smooth enough the whiplash is sometimes enough to take me out of the song, and if one of the songs is clearly the superior composition it makes the whole enterprise seem slightly pointless - why not expand that snippet to a full song instead of throwing it alongside a lesser one in a package deal? So the key thing for me whenever this kind of song rears up is that the constituent parts really can't work on their own, something about them just prevents them form being able to be expanded to a full song without sacrificing a lot of what makes them sound so good, and that the pieces fit together somewhat seamlessly. Essentially, the whole needs to be more than the sum of its parts in isolation.

"Take Me Out" is probably the best example of this type of song to come out this decade, but I feel somewhat hesitant to fully classify it as a true example of the two into one sub-type. After all, the first vignette is barely a quarter of the song's runtime and most people don't even remember it when they're talking about the song. I remember right around the time that "Take Me Out became semi-inescapable, a friend of mine posited that any band could take that first part, turn it into a song and no one would even realize they'd heard it before because all people get out of the song is second section. I don't necessarily agree with that assessment, but the point stands that if you ask 100 random people what "Take Me Out" sounds like, maybe five of them would immediately remember the build up while the rest would start aping the main section's guitar riff. Of course there's good reason for that, once the song shifts into that Gang of Four-style riff it certainly takes off into higher realms of catchiness and that is where the song's chorus comes in, but there's a certain importance to that first minute or so when it sounds like the band's trying to give Interpol a run for their money.

Essentially, there needs to be some kind of build up into the main part of the song. Starting it off with the jagged, angular riff would just sound completely awkward, even from a band without the sort of pop aspirations that Franz Ferdinand have. It's a damned good riff, everything from the chunky introduction to the lead licks that guitarist Nicolas McCarthy peppers it with sounds absolutely fantastic, but it can't stand on its own without startig off a bit awkwardly for a song, let alone a single. I'm sure that the band knew they had a winner in that riff, but also knew it needed to be built up to in order for it to work as a song. OF course the way they did it is pretty unconventional in its way. When I think of introductory riffs I'm generally expecting something quieter, maybe a bit slower to start the song off so that when the main riffs hit they sound like the culmination of something special. "Take Me Out" goes in the opposite direction, starting off louder and faster than its main riff and sort of dying down into the jagged chords that signify its entrance into the picture. And it works like a charm, still feeling like a culmination but one that comes about in a way that few other songs would take advantage of.

It also gives the song one of the oddest structures for a pop song I've heard recently. Think about it: it starts with a verse and goes into the chorus, but after that it alternates between the chorus, McCarthy's guitar break and the 'I won't be leaving here tonight' breakdown section without ever adding in a second or third verse. It's the rare example of a song that's pretty much 60% chorus and doesn't feel like it's overdone at all. The song as it stands doesn't need any other verses, and shifting too frequently between the verse riff and the chorus would sound just as awkward as if the song forewent the verse entirely if not more. The more I think about it the weirder it seems that this was ever a hit, let alone as big a hit as it turned out to be. Other than the extreme catchiness of the chorus section there's very little here that seems to point towards any kind of mainstream success. It's a deserved critical darling, but the level of success it had outside of its homeland seems antithetical to just how out of the ordinary it is on a structural level. I mean, how many top 10 (in Canada at least) hits form this decade boast so little in the way of conventional structure?

As much as the out-of-the-box elements of the song add to its continued appeal for me, it wouldn't be here if it wasn't also damned catchy, and that it is. The lyrics aren't exactly anything to write home about, though the verse has the type of suggestively vague imagery that I can get behind, but once the song gets into that damned guitar riff it's among the most addictive modern rock songs of the decade. Set aside the structural and compositional oddities and it's still a solid, hooky piece of post punk that would do many of its obvious forebears - I already mentioned Gang of Four but there's a bit of New Order and even a hint of PIL in the breakdown - proud. Add those in and it's a minor masterpiece from the revival that seemed to spawn more bad than good.

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