13 June 2009

super saturday - 13.06.09 - down, down, down

I thought what I would do this week is consolidate. Lea is, at the moment, indisposed (as I too will be in a week's time, so this may be the last FFR post for a couple weeks), so she asked me to sub for the Friday Five. Given the expansive nature of the theme I'd had planned for Sunday, I decided to just wrap everything up into one extra-large package this week. So here's the regular five plus the regular three, simultaneously one night late and one night early. Can't beat that.

Now, then. High Fidelity, a great film in and of itself, begins with one of my all-time favorite movie quotes: "What came first, the music or the misery? People worry about kids playing with guns, or watching violent videos; that some sort of culture of violence will take them over. Nobody worries about kids listening to thousands, literally thousands of songs about heartbreak, rejection, pain, misery and loss. Did I listen to pop music because I was miserable? Or was I miserable because I listened to pop music?"

It's funny because it's so true. The most famous of all classical compositions may be Beethoven's "Ode to Joy," but more often than not sorrow seems to be the word of the day when discussing what we today consider popular music. What moves us emotionally is entirely subjective, so I disclaim myself in advance, but here are a few choice cuts that seem to deeply resonate sadness. And this is by no means a bad thing: in some cases, these can be as great as music gets. Just don't get too close to the edge.

David Bowie - "Five Years" (mp3|4.31MB)
You know, when Bowie stops honing his image-du-jour and actually writes a song, he can really pull it off. "Five Years" is the first track from his legendary Ziggy Stardust album, and it could possibly be the best song he has ever written (don't make me choose, though; he kind of has a lot). The idea's simple: he, through his Ziggy Stardust persona, observes all the tragedy and sadness inherent in everyday life and gloomily proclaims that, if we carry on this way, five years is "all we've got." Of course, this was 37 years ago and the world has remained much the same, but likewise so has Bowie's message and its impact. I don't care how ham-fisted this sounds. Listen to the way the man belts it out and you can't help it. You're a goner. Maybe songs like this aren't the real reason Bowie is the stuff of legends, but in my world I'd like to think so. One way or another, he's earned it.
(from the 1972 album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust)

Brand New - "Limousine (MS Rebridge)" (mp3|10.58MB)
Given time, I'm sure I'll end up posting this entire album. But how can I help it? It's one of the best albums I've ever heard, and it shows no sign of giving up that title anytime soon. "Limousine" is its logical centerpiece: an eight-minute epic about death at the hands of a drunk driver that, by means both soft and loud, slowly works itself into one of the most devastating songs I have heard. I don't know how Jesse Lacey does it, but even repeating the same lyric over and over (but counting up each time) is enough to tear my heart out. And then there's that crescendo, and ... oh man, it's a hell of a song.
(from the 2006 album The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me)

The Cure - "The Last Day of Summer" (mp3|5.13MB)
The Cure should have called it quits with Bloodflowers. I love them to death, but they should have. And not just because their last two albums have sucked a big one, but because it would've been such a fitting swan song for them. Somehow the idea of a band that has garnered "most depressing ever" tags for three solid decades bowing out with an album as mellow, beautiful, and heartbreaking as Bloodflowers just seems right. "The Last Day of Summer," possibly its finest moment, features one of the saddest atmospheres I've ever encountered in a song. I can't put my finger on it, but it kills me every time. And if a line like "The last day of summer never felt so cold" seems cliche on paper, wait until you hear Robert Smith sing it. You'll change your mind.
(from the 2000 album Bloodflowers)

Death Cab for Cutie - "Tiny Vessels" (mp3|5.99MB)
Death Cab's Transatlanticism, by far their best album, is chock-full of moments I find curiously harrowing, but on no song does this feeling reach the height it does on "Tiny Vessels." It's really a visceral reaction, because I can't even begin to describe just why the song does this to me (it's a fairly straightforward anti-love ballad). It just does. Hats off to Ben Gibbard for finding just the right buttons to push. It's atmospheric in evocative ways, melancholy to the core, and consequently it has exactly the desired effect. Bravo.
(from the 2003 album Transatlanticism)

Guillemots - "Trains to Brazil" (mp3|5.52MB)
I listened to this song at least ten times before I realized what it's about. As soon as it hit me, I probably listened to it another ten times in a row. Move over, Springsteen and Bono and all you humanitarian, world-conscious rockers. "Trains to Brazil," an unassuming pop track by a British indie band only seven people have heard of, is the best song about terrorism ever written (it's ostensibly about a man who loses his best friend in the 2005 London subway bombings). If you've never heard it before, step right up! If you have, go back and listen to it again with this in mind. The lyrics will all click into place, and it'll destroy you. But in such a great way.
(from the 2006 album From the Cliffs)

The Hold Steady - "First Night" (mp3|6.74MB)
The Hold Steady's Boys and Girls in America is a landmark album, right down to its near-iconic title. I don't know how apparent this was in 2006, or is today, but mark my words: someday it will be regarded as the cultural touchstone of the 2000s. Really, it's the ultimate "youth album" of our generation: the parties, the sex, the drinking, the drugs, the ennui, the depression -- it's all there, delivered with the utmost of care by Craig Finn (whose lyrics are, for what he's getting at, unbelievably good). "First Night" is Finn's honest, touching admission that the party has to end sometime, and if you've put everything you had into said party, what do you have left when it's over? It's a beautifully sad song, heartstring-tugging and true. By the time it erupts into its coda, you rock along not because you're having a great time, but because you realize the imporance of everything Finn has been saying.
(from the 2006 album Boys and Girls in America)

Billy Joel - "Piano Man" (mp3|5.12MB)
Say what you will about Billy Joel. Heck, I even have a few choice words for some of his output. But nothing can change the fact that "Piano Man" is, and likely will always be, one of my favorite songs. It was the song that really put Mr. Joel on the map, and deservingly so. I get the feeling that most of the lyrics here are largely autobiographical, which only makes his ultimate rags-to-riches trajectory seem all the more triumphant. Also: this song totally would've fit right in for that harmonica post I did a while back. Just sayin'.
(from the 1973 album Piano Man)

Train - "Meet Virginia" (mp3|3.65MB)
I've got to admit, I'm really not familar with Train. One of the reasons may be because they're called Train. But I heard this song on the radio several years ago, liked it, downloaded it, and fell in love. It probably shouldn't surprise you by now that it's something of a downer, but it's a poignant one: a sobering look into white-trash hell and the halfway decent people who unwillingly inhabit it. Again, if the description alone doesn't sound appealing, the band's delivery turns it into a low-key home run. It may not be the best song ever written, but it's one I think very highly of. It just works.
(from the 1998 album Train)

Righto. That'll do it for me, folks. Catch you next time!

As always, send all email and amusing forwarded spam to fridayfiveradio@gmail.com. No, seriously. This is not merely a tag we stick at the bottom of each entry to satisfy our readers. I'm going to go check this as soon as I'm done posting. Honest. ... no, really. I am.


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