Monday, March 26, 2007

song of the week: shores of california (for lady quinoa)

And that is why a girl is called a tease
And that is why a guy is called a sleaze
And that's why god made escort agencies
One life to live and mace and GHB

It’s not flashy or jaw-dropping and so you might be forgiven for judging Shores of California as just a nifty little album-filler. But to my mind, it is the definitive Dresden Dolls song - and they didn't even play it the last time I saw them. *sigh*

The song’s chord-plunking, drum-bashing introduction, opens on a little battle-whoop from lead-singer Amanda, and instantly you know you are listening to something different.

But this isn’t a love story or a personal lament (as none of the Dolls songs really are, surely?) No, Amanda and Brian are telling you a story and the beginning is quiet, so listen carefully.

Amanda’s vocal performance on the first verse is a characteristic collection of softly lingering hushes and staccato whispers, gradually peeling back to reveal the full force of those pipes. You hear her gasps and breaths between lines on the production – she is in the room with you, alternately breathing down your neck and spitting in your coffee. The jaunty little piano accompaniment is like a musical accompaniment to a silent film telling the endlessly replicated sex-comedy of boy-meets-girl. Boy wants to see girl undressed. Girl searches in vain for that ‘fickle little bitch romance’ (nice assonance). Girl disappoints boy. Boy disappoints girl. Shame.

The first chorus is delivered with such understatement you barely even notice it: a series of delicately played piano chords as Brian sits on his drumsticks and wait for the verses to kick in again. Amanda delivers her lines like a governess explaining a well-worn parable to her receptive charges; 'That’s the way it is in Minnesota, And that’s the way it is in Oklahoma

The story continues with the simultaneous cat and mouse of the bass chasing the tail of of the melody, gradually escalating into a series of roly-poly piano scales, before exploding into thumping percussion and jingle-jangle piano, played like a Vegas show-tune standard. By the second chorus, there’s the sense that any minute now, Amanda or Brian will stand on their chairs, hands aloft, yelling ‘All together now! Clap your hands! Sing along if you know the words!'

A thumping, disjointed, aggressive little middle-eight, all fidgety piano and sulky drumming, confidently resolves for a bridge of crashing crescendos and clatter-happy cymbals. And then we get another throwaway verse before that wry, nasty, little line; The girls are crying…The boys are masturbating’, supported by Brian’s beautifully androgynous backing vocals.

The beauty of this song is that it transforms the fodder for all major pop songs (boy meets girl, boy misunderstands girl, girl misunderstands boy, girl cries, boy calls girl a slut anyway) into a bittersweet ditty that is both a barrel of laughs and a cruel slap in the face. It turns the never-ending confusions between girls and boys, which are deep and tragic when they happen to you, into a pathetically funny little anthropological puzzle, culminating in a grand old sing-along that’s served with a smile and a side-order of bile. There is nobody like The Dresden Dolls, and if there was, they couldn't ever possibly be as good.


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