On to side B, then, let’s do this.
He’s done it again. Written what is so nearly a positively upbeat and cheery guitar riff, and yet built it into a heartfelt melancholic love song. This is the simplest arrangement, with very little beyond the picked guitar and vocals, but what more do you need when you can yank on heart strings this hard with just that?
As I’m writing this piece, I’m starting to wonder if my love of McRae has infected my own songwriting more than I realised – I often seem to end up with melancholic lyrics fit to a cheery tune, or what should be happy and upbeat lyrics arranged into a sad song. This is a good example of it – I guess the mood is more yearning than sad, but there’s not much in it.
I have a bit of a difficult relationship with the message I get from this song. For me, it feels like a request to a third party. The relationship itself is solid, but the singer doubts their ability to get old. A request to be ‘allowed’ to reach a ripe old age with someone you love. A feeling I can half identify with – I struggle to commit to the idea that’ll I’ll last until old age, but loving someone enough to really want to last? I know I’ve felt that before, but since 2015 have struggled to, errrmmm, believe in? To think I could feel it again? Not sure quite what the feeling is, but this song jumps on that particular emotional thread, and bounces around on it really rather firmly.
Second song to drag tears from my eye.
Slightly off kilter from the start, with a snare beat that feels like a cross-rhythm, or an unusual time signature, this song is full of tension and barely contained rage. That they managed not to turn this into a snarling punk explosion by the end is very impressive. Although I say that as a punk at heart, of course. The slow build of the instrumentation and that relentless snare rhythm create so much intensity it doesn’t need overdrive to feel big and angry. The staccato strings join in to really underline the urgency of the song, so simple, yet so very effective.
Tom’s quietly angry vocal is delivered softly enough it’s possible to miss the political rage that fuels the song, and just feel slightly surprised at how angry you feel by the end, and how much you wish it would keep going, building and building. Once you pay attention to the words he’s almost whispering in your ear, that feeling is only intensifies. Although I can appreciate there’s not really much headroom to build lyrically after calling for bloody revolt at the end of the final verse. Instead you’re left with an urgent feeling that something must be done, you need to release this build up of tension somehow, and doing anything short of starting the revolution feels a bit half-hearted. Not that I’m yet to start said revolution, despite the number of times I’ve listened to the song, but the urge is real and if nothing else it’s a great song to listen to to get yourself up off your lazy arse to do something.
An appropriately americana-tinged song, quiet but with a firm hold on the emotions. Filled with the kind of imagery that I have come to take for granted from McRae, I find it hard to say much about it for fear of ruining the whole. I love how one song can say so much with some beautifully harmonised ‘oh’s’, and the line that gut punches me with memories every. Single. Time:
“My heart aches, with every word”
This song often surprises me with how much it can hit me emotionally. Considering I’ve kinda given up on feeling that level of emotion for the foreseeable, the way this song sucks me into that place catches me off-guard.
It’s no good. I’m going to have to tap out again. I don’t know if it’s the words, melody, the way that lilting picked guitar part makes such a perfect bed to build the rest of the instrumentation on. It’s just a great little song that my level of knowledge can’t say anything about beyond ‘ yowzers, right in the feels’.
Hoooooo boyohboy. What a song to end an album with.
Heartbreaking, yet full of hope. Albeit a hope that is heavily undercut by cynicism. It feels so perfectly in tune with both the post-armageddon theme of the album, and with the current zeitgeist (even more so now, about 5 years on). It’s somehow feels simple, but with a surprising amount going on. Every new bit of musical texture feels so natural and expected, it barely feels like anything was added.
The Drunken Midnight Choir ‘solo’ makes me wish this song was better known so I could get fireside sing-a-longs of it going (I may try anyway, of course – I do love the idea of a McRae themed sing-a-long). The ending repeats of ‘It’s gonna be okay’ in a mournful chorus of voices – which becomes something more when part of a large audience singing it. Especially with added cynicism from Tom as you try to keep singing. Just… Beautiful.
This song by probably any other artist (with the possible exception of Leonard Cohen, of course) would be too… Earnest. Too genuinely hopeful. I’d hate it. With a passion. Can you imagine publicly admitting to liking a song with ‘It’s gonna be okay’ as the final chorus? Of course not, it would be awful. Unless it’s Tom McRae, whose cynicism is so deeply embedded into the song, suddenly it feels like exactly how I feel when I sing it: A desperate cry, begging for it to actually be okay, with an overwhelming feeling that it almost certainly won’t be. It doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing what you can to make it better, but make your life more bearable by doing so with what I would describe as a healthy dose of realism. If your expectations are low enough, the world might just give you a pleasant surprise one day!
Wow. That was a lot of thinking and listening and typing. Not used to that much of any of the three, let alone all combined! My hope is that one person goes and listens to this album for the first time, and sees something of what I see in it. Maybe not to the same level or from the same place. Hopefully I haven’t put anyone off from listening. It’s much better than I’ve made it sound, it’s good depressing, honestly.
Oh, and special thanks to my little sister Iona for pointing me in the right direction with time signatures!
There’s a few more artists/albums I’d like to write love letters to, to a variety of depths, so let me know if you’d like that!