Friday, October 13, 2006

song of the week: oh well

Sometimes I wish minifig was a bit more of a bastard so I could properly enjoy break-up music. Don't worry, I'm not pining for lost Saturday nights spent drunk in my pyjamas sobbing along to 'All by Myself', it's just some of the women I most respect are at their most beautiful when they're singing about the one that, thank god, got away. Obviously, Carly Simon's You're So Vain is the greatest (also read wittiest, sharpest, knowing, ironic, painful) portrait of heartbreak ever written, but I doubt it will ever be song of the week, mainly because I listen to it every week. But Fiona Apple's Oh Well is probably the greatest break-up song of 2006. Not only is it perfectly aestheticized heartbreak by numbers, but it also has what all perfect break-up songs demand - killer lyrics.

Now, there are many Apple-haters out there, and I'm sure I can't tell you why she went out with David Blaine, but I think anybody who doesn't think she's amazing is a bit of a too-cool-for-school-fool. I saw her live in April, during my blog hiatus, and I nearly took it up again just to tell you all how much stage prescence she has. She's also pleasingly crazy, gloriously enigmatic and hypnotically beautiful - so boo you, mockers.

Oh Well is the break-up song written for that complete and utter bastard, intent on undermining and destroying you into blind submission. The words are those of the girl who has realised this, and yet, is obviously still hopelessly devoted, but with no plans to forgive and forget. This is the perfect angry break-up scenario for pop music.

The song begins with a sulky, miserable door-slam of a piano chord, before swinging moodily into a shuffle beat mixed with syncopated Broadway-style singing, channelling Blanche DuBois, reeking of alcohol and wearing her prettiest underwear as Gloria Gaynor stands outside in the cold, waiting for her to get dressed. Its opening lines could almost be the beginning of a much happier love song: 'what you did to me made me see myself something different / though I try to talk sense to myself, but I just won't listen', and then, with that chord shift comes the realisation that he is clearly what is known in the trade as 'a sod'. Or, as she puts it, 'you came upon me like a hypnic jerk when I was just about settled'. Brilliant.

The lead into the chorus is knowingly dramatic. As the song crescendos and Fiona reveals
'My peace and quiet were stolen from me', the entire accompaniment halts on 'quiet', before a deliberately theatrical piano intro backed by drum rumbles, into the full, angry defiant orchestral punch ('what wasted unconditional love!') before miserably falling away into a big comforting hug complete with strings, woodwind and harps ('on somebody, who doesn't believe in the stuff').

Oh Well is a highly self-conscious homage to the classic break-up song. It's so lushly Bacharach, with a harmonious marriage of lyrics and melody, yet full of bitterness and violence, mixed up with the total stupidity of love that makes you, quite literally, selfless. By the reprise of the second chorus, she apears to have fully realised what a wretched waste of time and energy all these emotions have been, and with a wilted resignation she throws away the sentiment of the song with an understated 'oh well', the stock statement of the chat-show guest who suddenly realises why their partner has brought them on Ricki Lake - and it ain't to get down on one knee.

Oh Well is the kind of tune that could be sung prostrate on a grand piano, slither of thigh on show with smudged mascara, or walking miserably through the park on a crushingly beautiful day, or alone, with a bottle of rose, in your pyjamas.

I shotgun the grand piano.


At 13 October, 2006 21:24 , Anonymous Sash said...

Hey you! Hope all is going well, bar loss of Wuthering Heights. You know, my friend, you are thus far the only person I've found who can write about music in a way that makes me want to go out and listen to it NOW. Which is rather annoying, considering I never have any of it. Maybe one of these days you should do a Songs of the Week compilation for those of us whose musical resources are somewhat less extensive?? Besides, I miss you and it would make me feel better. Oxford is a bit of a culture shock after London, and to be honest rather more claustrophobic and full of braying public schoolboys than i'm entitrely comfortable with. I find myself doing stupid things like getting up at half 6 to wander round the park simply because it's the only headspace I get. And there's SO MUCH WORK! Talking of which, the Arcadia MS calls (bloody annoyingly because I can't find a translation online and thus have to plough thru the whole thing in secretary hand...) but yes, I will email properly asa I get the chance, and thanks so much for your blog, it really cheers me up! Love to minifig, sand hopefully I'll see you at some point soon...

much love, S xx
(Incidentally, what're your feelings about the masters thing? Will you reapply for next year? If you did, and I get in, we'd be there together... :o) )

At 13 October, 2006 21:58 , Blogger darling vicarage said...

hello!!! i'm going to have to come to oxford and visit - and yes, there will be a compilation when i hit 18 songs - you will be the first to receive a copy :). dammit i miss you too - i won't bug you now, being knee-deep in Sidney, but yes, we will meet again, delirium.

At 14 October, 2006 12:00 , Anonymous Del (thanks!) :o) said...

Oh please do! It would make my week. There's a danger you'd arrive and I'd burst into tears on your shoulder - it's only the end of the first week and I'm already reaching the constantly-weepy-for-no-logical-reason point of stressed - but it would make me, yes, deliriously happy to see you. And almost equally so to get a CD - I'm counting the weeks... :o)
Now it's 'Politics, community and literary authority' that i'm procrastinating from, and it's actually interesting so I should probably go and get on with it. But is there anytime good to ring? (If i can ever get reception in my room? Ho hum. But that's a different and considerably more frustrating story...)


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