Thursday, April 21, 2011

Just Can't Last / Not In This Life / Effigy

Just Can't Last (from the album Motherland)

I swear I know your face,
I wish I knew your name
I wish I could take you by the hand
If I could name it
If I could just explain it
If I could only help you,
help you understand

I can see that you're hurting
weighed down like a beast of burden
about to break your back.
God only knows that you're human
So what are they trying to do then
Believe me, they don't understand
that you have the weight of the world today
It's on your back
A heavy load like that is gonna hold you back
It's gonna drag you down
You know it just can't last, just can't
You know it just can't last

They thought they could use you
Push you down and abuse you
And what's so sad is you've decided to hide
all your feelings
Got more pain than you can deal with
but ask yourself how can this last

I know you have the weight of the world today
It's on your back
A heavy load like that is gonna hold you back
It's gonna drag you down
You know it just can't last, just can't
You know it just can't last

_______________________________________________

Not In This Life (from the album Motherland)

Lately I've been walking all alone
through the wind and through the rain
been walking through the streets
finding sweet relief in knowing that it won't be long

Lately it's occurred to me
that I've had enough of that
and lately I've been satisfied by simple things
like breathing in and breathing out

Never again, not in this life
will I be taken twice
never again, not on your life
will I make that same mistake
I can't make it twice

Lately it's occurred to me
exactly what went wrong
I realized I compromised, I sacrificed
far too much for far too long

Never again, not in this life
will I be taken twice
never again, not on your life
will I make that same mistake
I can't make it twice

Starting out from here today
swear I'm gonna change my ways
once mistaken in this life
but never twice

Never again, not in this life
will I be taken twice
never again, not on your life
will I make that same mistake
never again, not on your life
will I make that same mistake
can't make it twice

Starting out from here today…


_____________________________________________

Effigy (from the album Ophelia)

I'm an effigy
A parody of
Who I appear to be
Put your flaming torches under me

I'm an effigy
A parody of
Who I appear to be
Put your flaming torches under me

I'm an effigy
A parody of
Who I appear to be
Put your flaming torches under me

Endless so far in myself, follow me



People crave a little friction in their relationships. Sure, there are a lot of books and talk shows filled with advice on how to keep harmony and happiness in our relationships, romantic or otherwise. Most people would say without hesitation that they want peaceful relationships, that they are trying to reduce discord. But the truth is many people, perhaps secretly, like to have a little bit of conflict in their lives from time to time.

For instance, look no further than the world of fiction, be it stage, screen or novel. Romantic story lines rarely differ from this general formula: 1) Boy Meets Girl. 2) Obstacles Arise. 3) Happily Ever After (or everyone dies, one of those two.) Can you imagine how dreadfully boring it would be to sit in a movie theater for 2 hours watching two people just...be in love? One happy scene of romantic bliss after another? Blech.

No, we want drama for our characters. We want a challenge for them to overcome. We want Montagues and Capulets. We just can't help ourselves. Obviously, we don't want the same exact brand of conflict in our own relationships, but we do occasionally court a little bit of mild drama in our love lives. It keeps things interesting. Passionate arguments are evidence that we are still passionate people. No matter how much they bicker, and really, because of all that bickering, we know Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn will always end up together in the end, Happily Ever After.

Let's face it, this blog has been a whole lotta Boy Meets Girl and Happily Ever After lately. How many times in the past several weeks have I said, "I love this song"? Too many! How many times have I said, "This is one of my top ten favorite Natalie Merchant songs"? Probably fifteen times, which is both annoying and a flagrant violation of mathematical law. Well friends, today we are going a different direction. Today it's time to face the obstacles head on. Today it is time to face the dark truth...There are some Natalie Merchant songs that I just don't like. So buckle up, it's going to be a bumpy blog.

Let's start with two songs from Motherland, an album I consider to be generally exceptional. In the last several weeks, I've talked about Natalie's gift for writing (and interpreting) songs that comfort and console. There is no denying her outstanding gift for writing songs that soothe. Just Can't Last is a song in this same vein. It's filled with heartfelt sympathy for...

There is my problem. I know what Wonder is about, I know the audience Natalie is singing to/for. Even Break Your Heart, which is more general, gives you some specifics. What are we being comforted over? Disillusionment, despair, the selfish attitudes of others, bad luck. We are admonished to fight against giving into these dark emotions and negative behaviors. But Just Can't Last is so much more bland. "I know things are bad, but it won't last forever, The End." Just Can't Last feels a little like a cheap knock-off of a more authentic style of song.

I'm literally cringing as I write these words. It feels a little absurd to dislike a song that is genuinely thoughtful. It's like saying, "I hate love songs." Why would you waste such a powerful emotion as hate on such a beautiful thing as love? The truth is, I do actually hate a lot of love songs. (But I loooove hate songs!) I have no defense for this. For another thing, the words of Thumper's mother are ringing loudly in my ears: "If you don't have anything nice to say..."

No! Enough of that! Back to today's theme: Friction! Conflict! Discord! On with the show...

Not In This Life is a very simple song. What is it about? It seems to be about feeling down, deciding not to feel down anymore, being resolved to move forward. I guess these are common themes in music and themes that often work wonderfully, but I just find myself feeling uninspired by this song. As in the case of Just Can't Last, I feel like Not In This Life is a little dull.

My guilt is starting to creep in again. Maybe this will be one of those cases where I will find a quote from Natalie where she will say she doesn't really like these songs either and then I will feel justified. Here's what she has said about Not In This Life:

"Not In This Life is one of the great sleepers in my catalogue."

Uh oh...

"The record company began to run out of steam when it was time for this third single from Motherland. I really enjoy the interplay between my voice and Erik (Della Penna)'s lead guitar line that's woven throughout the song. The ad-lib section and the improvised jam toward the end are unusual for a song of mine, and I enjoy both."*

Did you catch that part about the record company running out of steam? That's me now, isn't it? I'm nearly half way through this blog project and I'm starting to falter. I'm the record company. I'm the enemy! You never suspect that the villain is you.

Alas, there is one more song for me to diss on this post. And I already feel myself sinking into a boiling vat of hot water. You know why? Because people love them some Ophelia. Even a song that is less loved on Ophelia is more loved than the most popular song on almost any other Natalie album. So what am I going to say about Effigy?

I'm going to say that I have very little good reason to dislike this song. Actually, I don't really dislike any of this week's songs. I just don't love them. And when it comes to Natalie Merchant's music, that doesn't happen to me very often. Effigy has haunting lyrics and interesting music. There are times I think this song is beautiful. But as much as I have embraced the darkness that often displays itself in Natalie's music, this song is simply too dark for me. And it has to be said that any song on what is essentially a pop music album that just repeats the same couple of somber lines over and over again, AND which includes backing vocals by a Tibetan devotional singer (even one with a voice as beautiful as Yungchen Lhamo), is going to challenge the listener.

And it is with this crucial point that today's story ends. Writing about Effigy did not make me like the song more. But it did remind me of something I truly appreciate about Natalie Merchant's music: She trusts the musical intelligence of her listeners enough to include a song like Effigy in her catalogue. It would've been an easy song to hide away. But she had faith in us. And I'm very grateful that she's willing to challenge me, even if I sometimes fail the test.

So when it's all said and done, when I've spewed all my negativity, when I have spat upon the music of my most beloved musical artist, we still come to a happy ending after all.

What else did you expect?

******

That's all for this week from me. However, I know that many of you who are reading today's post are going to emphatically agree or (more likely) emphatically disagree with my crotchety old opinions about these songs. Feel free to share your opinions via the comment section below or e-mail. Put me in my place (kindly, though - Bloggers have feelings too. Oh who am I kidding, no they don't.)

Click here to watch the music video for Just Can't Last. Even the video for this song seems like a lazy reinterpretation of the Wonder video. Here I go again...

Download Just Can't Last from Itunes - Just Can't Last - Motherland

Download Not In This Life from Itunes - Not In This Life - Motherland

Download Effigy from Itunes - Effigy - Ophelia

*Retrospective Album Liner Notes

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