Wednesday, October 01, 2008

song of the week: this must be the place

Like, duh. I had one of those stupid little eureka moments last weeks. It wasn’t especially groundbreaking, but it’s improved my quality of life beyond all measure. I “remembered” Talking Heads’ This Must Be the Place. It sits quite innocently on the jukebox in a pub near my office but I always forget it’s there. Then last week while out drinking with my girlfriends, I remembered it’s existence, and now I’m listening to it at least three or four times a day, having rediscovered the best love song ever written.

So, where to start when discussing its all-round brilliance?

It’s so-called Naïve Melody, whereby the bass and guitar repeat the same phrase for the song’s entirety, restricts the melody to a very nursery-like G-A-B-A chord progression, binding the song into a gentle, repetitive lull. Its simplicity leaves room for David Byrne to overlay the song with a lyrical, understated but sincere vocal. Its childlike opening, which extends past a full minute, complete with keyboard-y clavinet-y riff is ripe for dancing shyly to and dozing off to. The effect is soothing, like when someone strokes your fringe away from your forehead. I don’t think it’s any surprise that The Spice Girls nicked the especially perky section of the keyboard riff for Mama (1:24) because This Must Be The Place epitomises naïve, safe and innocent. It also fails to go anywhere especially significant, happy to be thoughtlessly trapped in its own simple pattern. Consequently, it treads a fine line between sweetly straightforward and a little bit dull. However, this latent dullness works against the upbeat preppiness of the guitar and bass to deliver a song that, no matter how cute, retains a surprising and pleasing air of melancholy. In a song filled with promises of uniqueness and forever ever after, Talking Heads still succeed in creating a pop song that feels temporary and throwaway in its easiness. It’s perfect, and yet also, because it doesn’t quite go anywhere, just a little bit unfulfilling…hence why I want to hear it again, and again, again. So perhaps not that dissimilar to love.

Covers of this song, no matter how dreadful, still unwittingly reveal its uncomplicated beauty. Shawn Colvin strums her way through a sickly, syrupy version (it’s pretty icky), while MGMT ham up the cutesy keyboard skipping. Arcade Fire deliver an aching, slightly co-dependent hymn with skinny violin parts and tinny drums. None are as good as the original, but all pick up on the various strains lying dormant in its sound. Shawn Colvin does sentimentally slushy; MGMT do boppy, poppy, happy and Arcade Fire do lovestruck and desperate. No change there then.

I never think of this as a very Talking Heads kind of song. It’s them at their fluffiest, their most docile. There’s something drunkenly joyful and a little bit sleepy about it, until David Byrne lets loose with great big heart-bursting, wailing declarations of love. The lyrics are adorably optimistic, a little bit delusional, and stubbornly resist romantic clichés in favour of rather more understated ways of saying what every other love song insists on shouting at you. Its almost tinny, hollow poppiness works brilliantly with the elegantly spare lyrics. The euphoric, moaning tone that David Byrne’s drawl reaches with that most exquisite of chat-up lines, “And of all those kinds of people, you got a face with a view” is pure, infatuated, utterly nutso love. You’re beautiful, you’re unique, and he wants to be with you for ever and ever.

His quavering, blurry voice beefs up the melody with just the right amount of neediness, as behind this apparently transparent, innocent tune are terribly clingy, long-term-love kind of lyrics. The man singing this song isn’t just in love, but hell-bent on staying in it for the rest of his life. This little animal has found his home, taken off his shoes and coat, and intends to love you till he’s dead. And yet, in line with the song, there’s also just the right amount of maturity and level-headedness, honest commitment; a kind of give-and-take that’s echoed in the identical structure of the bass and guitar parts. The song’s melody mirrors the comfort that comes with being in love, or finding a “home”, or sharing “the same space for a minute or two”. It’s this easy-going but incredibly heartfelt combination of “feet on the ground” and “head in the sky” that makes This Must Be The Place so emotive. It uses a very simple musical structure and very basic, uncluttered lyrics to express a deep, quite complicated emotion and bring out a fundamental truth. Which is that love, when kept simple, is actually very simple. Not bad in 4:53.

Okay. I’ll stop getting all slushy and D&M on you. And even if you think that’s a load of old tosh, David Byrne’s final yelping swoon is divine (not to mention his lurve-dance with the lamp).


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