clap clap blog: we have moved
Saturday, November 20, 2004
BB #08: CHIEF INSPECTOR BLANCHEFLOWER
Intro, one, two, three, four, five, six.
Off we go once again, armed with my new understanding of their equipment set-up.
Note: I am not doing "Mason City," at least not at the present time, because I have no idea what the hell is going on in "Mason City." If anyone out there has an idea what's going on in "Mason City," drop me a line, and we can collaborate on it or something, but man, I can't make a coherant heads or tails of that sucker.
Very clear three-part structure here, to the degree that you could make clean cuts and have it be three separate songs, all. Part one is the typewriter section, part two is the mystery section, and part three is the relationship section.
Begins with just synth and drum machine claps on the 2 and 4. The synth is doing something I've heard done before but I don't know how to do--I believe (although, again, could be talking out my ass) the oscilator is randomized and acts as a sort of irrational arpeggiator, playing a succession of eighth notes within a certain range but with no rhyme or reason. Even better, while the notes and the claps start off roughly in sync, they are on slightly different cycles, so after a bar or two they're firing at very different intervals, sort of like sitting at a red light behind another car and having your turn signal be slightly off theirs. It's fascinating to listen to, a weird, counterintuitive, and very effective choice. This continues throughout the entire typewriter section, although it occasionally changes volume and range.
After 15 second to appreciate these two things alone, the full arrangement of voice, percussion, and what I'm going to assume is autoharp (although it could be a mandolin or some other high-pitched, strummed string instrument). The percussion seems to be just toms, reverbed and either delayed at the same BPM as the claps are playing at, or just played like a 4-note mid-low feedback delay, firing off every 4 bars. The autoharp strums a single chord every 2 bars in the verse, but in the chorus changes chords. The verse chord is C. The chorus progression is C-C-F-F-G-G.
Vocally, the verses consist of more or less free-spoken lyrics for two bars followed by a melody for the next two bars consisting almost entirely of quarter notes and almost all E, G, and A. The chorus melody is almost exactly the same as the melody in the last two bars of the verse, except with a transitional F thrown in for good measure. It is exactly the same for all three chords; there is some rhythmic change, but this is mainly on account of the lyrics and the chord changes are simply there to provide the illusion of movement. It's almost ADD...
In terms of arrangement, we've already covered the first verse. For the first chorus, everything stays as before except a droning organ drops in on the left channel, the autoharp plays changes, and the synth gets detuned slightly. For the second verse, all beats drop out and a second randomized synth comes in on the other channel; after two lines, the toms come in double-beat where they usually would. They're definitely delayed here. The fourth line has a overdriven, bassy, dipping synth noise. For the second chorus, the tom hits every two bars but is not delayed, and the organ comes in. I also hear a piano here, although in retrospect that was probably somewhere before. The third verse is as the first verse at first, except with the additional randomized synth. Then there's the aforementioned synth noise, and we're back to the intro arrangement, and then it's just muted randomized bass synth for the final vocals here, which get muted as well and processed.
A beat runs through this section that's the stereotypical disco beat, kick-hat-kick/snare-hat, and I'm going to assume it's a drum machine. The chord structure is driven by a piano, although there's also an acoustic guitar here. A synth plays a leadline and I don't hear a bass. The whole thing has a sort of loose, boogie-woogie feel, although I may just be making that up. The impression is largely shaped by its contrast to the first part, given the very consistent, regular beat, and the more conventional vocal line, which Eleanor sings. The verse progression is D-G-Bm-A/Bm/A. The chorus progression is G-A-D-C. So unless I'm a dumbass, the verse is in D and the chorus is in G. Sorta. Or there's just an extra C in there for no reason. Oh, and the end of the chorus is 6 Gs and 10 (?) C#s.
It all proceeds as above for 2 verse and choruses. Then it holds G for 2 bars and there's a minor-key bridge, which has the same arrangement. I'm too lazy to figure out the chords here, but it proceeds in stepwise form with the synth holding whole notes and switching octaves every bar; it reminds me progression-wise of the "My baby's got a stick..." section of "Chris Michaels." Then there's a backwards-masked solo over indeterminate chords with, again, no significant arrangement change, followed by another verse/chorus pair as before. Then there's another breakdown outro with Eleanor freestyling (uh, sorta) over a murky drum machine beat and we're out.
Starts off with a roughly similar arrangement to the basic one for Part 2, except slower, and with a clap instead of a snare on 2 and 4. The synth line plays a more organized, scale-y line, which repeats regularly. The nice thing here is probably the way the 2nd chord hangs on through the third, making the dip to the fourth chord good, as it's really just two chords with a transitional one back into the resolving tonic at the end.
Then we have the second part, which dips into a lower chord to mirror the lyrics, a common practice in this section; it's almost a Broadway song in the way the melody and progression follow the narrative arc, even as the arrangement stays consistent. It hits a nice resolving chord at the end and does a similar thing, plus tremelo, with the next part.
The fourth part is vocals and a very prominent acoustic guitar, with some synth stuff going on in the background and no beat, although the guitar strumming is fairly rhythmic and continues the groove feel of the previous section that followed through here. I'm having a hard time following the chords in these three sections, especially whether they're regular or not, and what the logic is. It doesn't sound weird in the way the first section does, but it also doesn't sound conventional. I could map it out more thoroughly, but eh, what do you expect for free?
Then we have a fifth section that's just Rhodes (?) and vocals, with the same melody and chords as in the first part of this section, except slower.
Finally, a minute-and-a-half guitar solo, at a more moderate tempo than the rest of the song and with live drums, I'm fairly sure. The piano describing the chords gives the whole affair a sort of outro-of-"Layla" feel, although the drums are, I think, played by Matt, and thus fairly simple. The main thing to note here, aside from the actually very good solo, are the weird little breaks that happen starting at 8:28, where the drums play a fill and there are all sorts of zappy synthy noises which, were I being unkind, I might suggest were injected in order to disguise the out-of-time fills, but which actually work very well, so never mind. Although, let's all just take a moment and notice the fact that the song ends with a minute-and-a-half guitar solo and I'm not sure this has been mentioned in any write-ups of the album, and given that there are not a few other lengthy guitar solos on the album, this is notable. I guess after a 3-minute section focusing primarily of out-of-sync drum machine and randomized synth and free-jazz vocals, it doesn't seem like such a big deal.
In chart form:
0:16-0:46 Verse 1
1:12-1:45 Verse 2
2:10-3:03 Verse 3 (outro)
3:04-3:20 Verse 1
3:21-3:31 Chorus 1
3:32-3:48 Verse 2
3:49-4:01 Chorus 2
4:35-4:51 Verse 3
4:52-5:02 Chorus 3
5:03-5:10 Breakdown (outro)
5:28-6:05 Part 1 (hangin')
6:06-6:18 Part 2 (conflict I)
6:19-6:40 Part 3 (conflict II)
6:41-7:11 Part 4 (dialogue)
7:12-7:25 Part 5 (breakdown, aka Part 1 mk II)
Did I say something a few entries ago about toning this section down? Ah well.
This is one of my favorite songs on the album, a real winner, although also something of a grower, in the final analysis; it took a while to catch on, but once I paid attention, man oh man. Gimme some of that sugar.
Fairly straightforward, plot-wise, so let's run through that so we can get to the juicy thematic bulldada. Kid wants to be a typewriter repairman, because he loves the whole experience of it, especially the idea of sleeping late, doing a quick repair, and being back for an early dinner. His uncle even owns a typewriter repair business. But he doesn't get enough good grades, partially because he is ADD. He spends some time in the remedial room, and looks for other jobs, but gets distracted by the graphs, and in the end launches into a somewhat extensive fantasy about being a detective.
Now for the goodies. This is definitely the best song about ADD I've ever heard, and, in the Fiery Furnaces tradition, this stems in no small part from the specificity of it: not only raisins as a reward but "from her Ziplock bag," "Now I'm playing In My Own Little House," etc. Then on a slightly higher level, there are the evocations of things pleasing to ADD kids: the tangibility of typewriter parts mixed with the laziness the job would afford, the graphs in the career book, the "diamond plastic piece of wood" the street repair people are using as a warning sign. And on a higher level, there's also the fact that the verses feel ADD, rushed and unstructured and wobbling quickly from one subject to the next; even the chorus, while more organized, is a rush of words, really one sentence but covering a lot of ground.
But the best thing about it is probably how obvious it is that Matt himself is ADD. You can compare the Furnaces to prog on the basis of this album, but really, while this song is 9 minutes long, if you read through this analysis you see that there aren't any complex keys or time signatures--C major and D major and roughly 4/4 throughout--and it's really just three separate songs. Matt's just so ADD that he wants to throw as much in there as possible to keep his interest and it ends up getting long as a result. And it's blindingly obvious from the live shows, which are nothing but a near-perfect expression of ADD. It's different from a jam band mashing up a bunch of songs for creative or interpretive reasons; Matt just seems like he gets bored of each song so fast there's no reason to play the whole thing, or if you do, you have to break it up and put other songs in between the different sections. Now, this is more a guiding impulse than an actual night-by-night reason, and it ends up being creatively and interpretively interesting, but still, it's very ADD. So here we have an ADD song about being ADD. Pop affords this.
Matt's fantasy here is very boy's adventure story: clearly set in England, full of farmers and lords and weapons and bars. The detective gets word from a nobleman that there's been trouble with a farmer who may have been involved with foul play. When s/he arrives (Eleanor sings this part, so it's sort of hard to tell what's going on gender-wise, although see my previous points about this in "Blueberry Boat") s/he encounters the farmer in question, who is carrying a gun and muttering about his son. The detective arrests and confines him and has tea with the lord, Sir Robert Grayson, but the farmer escapes and burts through the window with a sword. Luckily he is very polite and begs forgiveness. Were I to fill in the gaps here I'd assume the farmer then gives evidence that he's been wrongly accused of killing his wife, and perhaps his son is to blame. The detective then meets with someone who has, in fact, killed his/her father (the "young son"?) and get the 411. So to speak. It's disjointed, but hey, it's ADD.
The best part here is the wonderfully ambiguous line "No where you'll see."
A very sudden shift here from 19th-century England to 20th-century America, and from the pre-adolescent version of Matt's character to the 20/30-something version. Having done the adult thing, he comes back for a visit and stays with his younger brother Michael. They drink, take painkillers and drink beer and watch a DVD, but something's up. Michael admits he's dating Matt's ex-girlfriend Jenny. Matt goes to see Jenny at her father's bakery and a confrontation ensues where it's hard to tell who's in the right: Jenny says she's dating Michael because she likes him, but Matt sees dark ulterior motives in that she's simply dating Michael to get back at Matt. We then find out that Matt's married and possibly not doing too well financially as he has to use his wife's new car to go have a drink at the bar his friend owns, it's unclear where. He doesn't like that Jenny is doing this.
The main question here, of course, is: what the hell do all these sections have to do with one another? Below you'll find my idea of what they all have to do with the other songs on this album, but why specifically are they all mashed up here? Or is it just a cop out? Sorta yeah, sorta no. There's a clear and easily-constructed narrative flow between the first two sections: the first part is a description of this ADD kid, and then the second part is his daydream, which makes just all kinds of sense and hopefully I don't have to explicate that, because, well, I'm not gonna. But then the third part just makes very, very little sense. You're dropped into a whole new situation with this character, which is fine, but nothing ever actually gets explained, although you do get a few facts: he dated someone named Jenny, he's now married to someone's who's not Jenny, and he has a younger bro who's currently dating Jenny. But what did he end up getting employed as? (A clerk at Gunzo's?) Who's his wife? When did he and Jenny date? And so forth. It's very believable that it's the same character, but it's somewhat inexplicable why the artistic choice to leave so much of the story out. Although I guess it was 9 minutes already, and focusing on small scenes is always a better idea in pop songs than trying to give the full picture. Still. It's good, but also somewhat confusing even with close analysis. Unless I'm totally missing something.
The way to think of this is mainly in relation to "Chris Michaels." Part 3 here is what happens afterwards; part 1 is what happened before, at least with Matthew's character. I'll admit to being sort of unclear as to how all of this relates, whether it's a parallel narrative or the same one, and while the naming differences would suggest the former (there's no "Jenny" or "Michael" in the previous song, although note the last name), but I prefer the latter because it's more fun. As I tangentally suggested in my entry for CM, I think Matt's character is Tony, and Tony's unnamed mistress is in fact Jenny. To change a bit what I said there, I think Tony gets dumped by Jessica, comes back from Columbia after Melinda's fleed the country, and enters into a serious relationship with Jenny, which ends sometime around college in a nasty way, and then a few years later Jenny starts dating Tony's little brother Michael. Many things are pretty much left unexplained: why they break up (although clearly Tony cheated on Jenny, in classic cyclical fashion, since he assumes she's trying to get back at him), where Michael was all this time, what Tony's doing with his life, but I'll try and fill this in with my wrap-up, to come by the end of the year (promise). Or hey, maybe a future Fiery Furnaces album will get into it.
"Spainolated" and (if you're lucky) "Birdie Brain" to come tomorrow, or I eat an entire mattress.
 This is much easier when you're doing it at home with a guitar at your side. Stupid work. Alternately: stupid me not having perfect pitch.
 And I am.
 "Shouldn't you use the same section name you used in your analysis of that song?" Eh.
 Were this more of a critical post, I might note something here about the way this contrasts with coverage of Wilco's A Ghost is Born, but that's for another time, I suppose.
 Yeah, OK, "ADHD," but ADD is one letter less, so in the spirit of the disorder, I'm going to use the shorter version.
 Not counting, of course, the brief Atom & His Package line: "At the punk rock / academy / where all the students / they're diagnosed with ADD." Great song.