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Unlikely/Beautiful
Del Amitri: Don't Come Home Too Soon
As I try to reconstruct what it is I ever did with my life before the World Cup, two moments linger as personal emblems of why spending the better part of a month in front of the television watching people from places I've mostly never been kicking a ball back and forth still seems like an illuminating and valuable thing to have done. The one that will be on many people's moment-list, I suspect, came late in the final: with France up 2-0, but down to ten men, Brazilian attacker Denilson, recently the object of the largest transfer-fee in soccer history, got the ball on the left wing, and steamed toward the box. As he approached French defender Lilian Thuram, a solid player of comparatively little international repute (at least before he scored the two goals in the semi-final against Croatia that put France into the championship game), Denilson launched into one of his trademarks, an astonishing blur of step-overs so hilariously protracted that I couldn't decide if he was attempting to appear to levitate by making his legs invisible, or if the Brazilians, unable to keep the odd corners of the British Empire apart in their minds, had conflated the Riverdance fad and the Tasmanian Devil. The intent, I think, is that the defender will either become nauseous or very, very sleepy. "Yes!", I could feel a nation of believers thinking to themselves. "This is why we will come back and win. Look at how fast his feet move! Only we can do this." And perhaps this last contention, in fact, is correct. I don't think the Nike commercial with the Brazilians playing obstacle-soccer in the airport, for example, would work with any other team. The Dutch would insist on negotiating the entire course with a series of precise twelve-foot passes, Chilavert would be out on the runway shooting airliners out of holding patterns with drop-kicks, the Americans would be listening to Alexi play guitar, the English and the Italians would be busy reading Introduction to Penalty Kicks, the Australians would go out for a Foster's for ten minutes and get bumped from their flight, and the Croatians would be brushing against the security guards' holsters and then feigning gunshot wounds. Only the Brazilians have the consummate individual skill to pull off the show. As Denilson was abruptly reminded by Thuram, however, who waited patiently for the eggbeater impersonation to end and then relieved him of the ball and loped away upfield, consummate individual skill, while often useful (Bergkamp's inertia-defying reception and flick to eliminate Argentina comes to mind), is not actually the foundation of consistent winning soccer. Thuram's own two goals were pretty, but the other key steps along France's championship route, Blanc's overtime strike past Chilavert and Zidane's two corner-kick headers in the final, were triumphs of timing and placement, not dexterity. Patience, awareness, resolve, communication and judgment are all at least as important as acrobatics. This is why it was possible for Brazil to lose, and why, too, the US might someday field a decent team, despite the fact that our kids grow up with divided attentions and over-engineered shoes.
The other moment didn't happen in a World Cup match at all, it happened in an MLS game, filling the yawning two-day soccer void between the semi-finals and the consolation match. The Columbus Crew, who'd been limping along for weeks without their four best players, finally had them back from France and were hosting the Chicago Fire, a team on an eleven-game winning streak, whose sole World Cup absentee has only played for them once, anyway. The Crew won, 3-0, but the moment that thrilled me had nothing, really, to do with the result, it was Brian McBride's flying scissors-kick for the third goal, not for its physical elegance (in slow-motion, to be truthful, it looked a bit gangly), but just because McBride was there in Columbus, in front of a smallish weeknight crowd, two weeks to the night after the US was drummed out of the Cup in a meaningless but much-noted statistical dead-last, throwing his body into the air to get his foot on a cross, as if this game meant every bit as much. I felt like crying: for Brian and the rest of the US team, who poured and will continue to pour their hearts into representing us on the world's biggest sporting stage; for the millions of us who refuse to let the public indignities soccer suffers in this country deter us from adoring it obsessively; for every nation like us whose heroes come back bleeding, to be restored by our belief.
And because the mechanics of the tournament demand that most teams come home disappointed, "Don't Come Home Too Soon", Del Amitri's lush official theme song for Scotland, could easily be adopted by the rest of the world. Although it exhorts the team to succeed, as all such anthems must, the song's clever twist is to couch the flag-waving in warm, uncritical affection and preemptive forgiveness, so that it makes as much sense as a welcome as it does a send-off. The song's sighed mantra, "Even long shots make it", is not a prediction of Scottish success, it is a defense of their participation, and when Currie sings "Let all France have whiskey on its breath", I take him to mean "Let our spirit inspire them", not "Let them fall at our feet". Strings swell and glimmer, the side itself contributes tastefully unobtrusive backing vocals, and the song spirals away into the night like a village parade disappearing over the next rise. Scotland didn't make it out of the first round, either, their seemingly eternal symbiosis of qualification and finals futility an ongoing counter to Euro-centric claims that Europe doesn't get enough places in the field, but the critics leaping on all the teams whose expectations outlasted them miss a crucial point about the nature of the event. Although it is a competition, it is even more spectacularly a celebration, not just of soccer itself, but of four more years during which the bits of the planet managed mainly to coexist. We sent Brian and Joe-Max and Cobi and Eddie and the rest of them off to France knowing they'd be slaughtered on the field; we did it because seeing Frankie Hejduk bang shots off the posts and keep running tells the world, and tells us, more about our real character than all the UN Security Council minutes and Dallas re-runs put together. We play with all our hearts, we want to say, but by the same rules, and we accept the outcome. And our team comes home with news of how the world is, and then goes back to whatever it was that made them our heroes to begin with.
Perhaps yet more indicative of the Scottish equanimity is the fact that this disc, in addition to the regular and instrumental versions of the title track, usually the complete contents of a sports-tie-in single, adds two Del Amitri b-sides, so that even though the Cup turned out to be the familiar bust, we've at least got some new music to listen to. Del Amitri have an ulterior motive in doing this, admittedly, as this single doubles as advance promotion for their greatest-hits album, to be released initially (in the UK) with a bonus disc of b-sides. The one here slated for inclusion on the bonus disc is "Paper Thin", a shivery, harmonica-drenched blues lament about the bleakness of material success, which plays, except for the choice of the protagonist's industry, uncannily like a ballad for Phil Hartman. It's the other one, though, "Three Little Words", that will join my personal list of Del Amitri's cast-off masterworks. Twangy mid-Seventies guitar licks, a slow snare toll, thoughtful piano and a melody that flits into breathy falsetto wrap around another in Currie's endless permutations of romantic disintegration, this one about how the phrase "I love you", itself, can be the vector by which infidelity spreads. I don't know what this has to do with soccer, but it's time to stop asking everything to, for a while.
Emma Townshend: Five-a-Side Football #1
Emma's "Five-a-Side Football" has "football" in the title, but little else to do with athletics or global harmony, which makes it a useful next step back towards a life not spent in constant vigilance against accidentally finding out the score of the game I'm taping at home. "Rainy Country", the first of the two b-sides here, finds Emma in her young-Kate Bush mode, with just her voice, her piano, some sputtering accordion and a bit of rustling percussion noise near the end, and stretches out across a long, curlicue frame with an appealing amount of abandoned-early-take ungainliness. The other track has to evoke Tori to balance the influences, and I have a hard time imagining anything more appropriate for this purpose than a fractured-pace piano-only cover of Abba's "Take a Chance on Me". Tori perfected this form on her desolate and mercilessly controlled rendition of "Smells Like Teen Spirit", and Emma, perhaps sensing that there's little point trying to outdo her in that exact idiom, emphasizes the imperfections and hesitations of this performance, instead. The effect is, at least to me, even more unsettling than Tori's deconstruction of Nirvana, because although Tori's and Kurt's versions of his song came from different musical universes, they were very similar, emotionally. Abba's glossy version of "Take a Chance on Me", however, arrived in a swirl of disco, pre-AIDS sexual mores and giddy phonetic harmonies, which tended to reduce it to harmless flirting. Emma's version, its halting delivery more like a tortured stream-of-consciousness answering-machine message than polished dance-floor insouciance, highlights the narrator's strange hybrid of desperate longing and sinister certainty, and undermines all her professions of patience and ambivalence, and I can easily imagine that this is Miss Havisham, singing hopelessly to herself as she waits to die, youth surviving only in the nearly-disembodied voice, echoing eerily through the ruins of her memory.
Emma Townshend: Five-a-Side Football #2
The second disc (amusingly, the two singles use the same two cover pictures, but flipped front-to-back, as if this really were the other side of the record) is devoted entirely to techno remixes, courtesy of Blue Amazon. The "Dolphin Talk Vocal Mix", the first one, attempts to turn "Five-a-Side Football" into a thumping ten-minute synth-bleep epic, in which the few recognizable shards of Emma's original nervous vocal rarely sound anything but lost, something like Suzanne Vega's "Tom's Diner" redone by Kraftwerk as a lethargic therapy for writer's block. The fact that it runs out a minute and a half before the track time in the credits predicts is a small and inadequate mercy. The second one, "Breathing Dub", retains only two syllables of Emma's vocals, which are tacked onto a blandly functional techno throb with acute sensitivity to the song's bpm and no sensitivity that I can detect to anything else. The four-minute "Radio Edit" excises most of the space-rock interludes from the "Dolphin Talk" version, and so at least leaves us with what sounds like a real song, albeit a pathetically derivative and graceless one. The concluding instrumental version removes Emma from the equation entirely, and while I can't decide whether to laugh at this reduction or scream, it does give me a way to explain what was wrong with the "Meatless Chili Con Carne" they used to serve us in college, without either of us having to eat any. I continue to believe that remixes like this will end up being the trumps our children pull to win the argument about whether the Nineties were a musical disaster or not. Surely by now they have enough of them.
Everclear: So Much for the Afterglow (single)
The other cover I've been savoring, alongside Emma's denuded Abba, is Everclear's delightfully feral romp through Vince Clarke's unselfconsciously inane synth-pop classic "Bad Connection", from the first Yaz album, Upstairs at Eric's. (Attributing it to "Michael P. Packard", here, is either a mistake or a joke I'm not getting, unless that's Vince Clarke's real name, which would be news to my reference books.) My enjoyment, this time, is purely visceral: I love the song, and Everclear clearly love it, too, and we seem to agree that it sounds just as wonderful as a guitar-punk sprint as it did in the original synthesizer arrangement. The other two covers here are Neil Young's "Pocahontas" and Iggy Pop's "Search and Destroy". These mean less to me, inevitably, since I'm not really a fan of either writer, but "Pocahontas" gets an infectious snap that makes it sound a bit like Everclear's cover of "Our Lips Are Sealed", and "Search and Destroy" sounds a lot more like a rock song than it did when EMF covered it. Which makes me suddenly curious to hear what Everclear could do with "Unbelievable".
Tori Amos: Spark #1
The first of these two UK advance singles from Tori's from the choirgirl hotel reached my shore four days ahead of the album, and my several-week inability to listen intelligently to anything but Tori began the moment I got it home, which means I spent about ninety-six hours locked in a periodicity of fifteen minutes, the length of this single. In part, this mania was fueled by anticipation, as I wondered what the rest of the album would sound like, but the single supported its own spell of immersion, as well. "Spark" itself, of course, I find totally mesmerizing, and even now, listening to the single again after countless repetitions of the album, I can't bring myself to skip ahead to the b-sides. This is what Mahler would have done if he'd been born a North Carolina preacher's-daughter piano prodigy, it seems to me. My brain can think of other candidates for song of the year, but while this one is playing, my heart and my lungs and my neck muscles can barely name another song of any sort, let alone conceive of humans writing anything better. "Purple People (Christmas in Space)", the first b-side, is as slow and elegant as "Spark" is incendiary and cathartic. Brushed drums and humming keyboards pace Tori's gentle, wintery piano and distant, distracted vocal, spinning a portrait of warring impulses. Tori's songs often seem to regard linear organization as not pertinent, to begin with, and b-sides are granted even more independence, with the result that non sequitur declarations like "breakfast every hour; it could save the world" are apt to crop up in the middle of otherwise tense internal debates like this one between serenity and power, and a snippet of throw-away wordplay is liable to end up as the title of the song (what the parenthetic subtitle refers to, I have no idea). Whether anybody but us fanatics can distinguish between this casual encryption and the more disciplined alloy of impenetrability that the album tracks are constructed from is another matter, but I'm having more than enough fun by myself to get along without company.
The other b-side original here, disappointing if you had your heart set on a Björk cover after seeing the title, is "Bachelorette", a spare, reeling experiment in metric evasion, with an eight-beat frame that seems to me to break into 3-3-2 more readily than 4-4, rattling percussion, grumbling bass and Tori's piano dodging around each other like the first one to hit a beat squarely loses. It has the usual Tori virtues, her swooping voice and a sense of tempo that seems to take literally the idea that walking is repeatedly falling forward and catching yourself, but the detail that sends me into seizures is the transition from the chorus back to the verse. As Tori sings "There's a window, there's a window" the song decelerates almost to a stop, and then starts up again, mid-beat, with two quick stick-hits that are, I've decided, after replaying the surrounding few measures for minutes on end learning to count along, measuring the underlying tempo for the restart, but the pattern of accents in the verse is so off-center that it takes two passes through the drum cycle before I can actually hear that the count-off matches the meter, which is a pretty ostentatious perversion of a thousand punk songs' metronomic crutch.
The song that flabbergasted me most thoroughly, though, which is saying something in this company, is the single's one cover, of, of all things, "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas". I do not like this song. No, let me be clearer: I hate Christmas music with a vehemence usually reserved for war criminals and drivers who do not understand rotary rights-of-way. The lowest circle in Hell, in my cosmology, is air-conditioned and tastefully decorated and lit, and I am asked to do nothing more taxing than play strategic board games with famous historical intellects, but Johnny Mathis and Perry Como singing Christmas standards are piped into the room at just above a subliminal volume, and before the end of the first week I've completely lost my mind. But by the time Tori gets through with the song it seems so beautiful to me that aliens must have landed and taught it to us. Part of this is due, no doubt, to Tori's penchant for singing to us like we're people, not cherubic ceramic gnomes, which turns the tune, even for me, from a hopelessly cloying cliché to an exquisite benediction. Part of it, though, is due to one of the most inexplicable and brilliant production impulses I can remember ever coming across, a low, cyclic whir that runs under the entire song, at a speed unrelated to the music, as if the recording was made in the base of an active lighthouse, whose rotating beacon produced enough electromagnetic flux to perturb the tape particles. I don't know which thing would guide me back to safety more surely, a massive beam of light stabbing out across the open ocean, or Tori's voice, reminding me why life is precious.
Tori Amos: Spark #2
Part two trades number for duration. The one original, here, "Cooling", is merely (sic) another haunting piano-and-multiple-voice song, in the same basic mode as "The Doughnut Song" or "Pretty Good Year". The lyrics, though, manage to start from "Maybe I didn't like to hear, / But I still can't believe Speed Racer is dead. / So then I thought I'd make some plans, / But Fire thought she'd really rather be Water instead." and wind through a web of anthropomorphized emotions and urges I still haven't disentangled fully enough to not be surprised when the oblique narrative emerges at the other end to ask "Is your place in Heaven / Worth giving up these kisses?", a substitution of chaste expression for motivating sin that makes God, in Tori's ongoing argument with Him, seem irredeemably petty, and immediately takes up office as my favorite synecdoche (not, previously, a category in which it had occurred to me to identify a favorite). The cover, to go with it, is Steely Dan's "Do It Again", and for once Tori doesn't rely on her usual interpretive technique of stripping the song bare, instead assembling a menacing collection of echoey, processed drums, fuzzily overdriven bass and a blocky piano part that seems as frightened of her clipped, moaning vocal delivery as the rest of us. The combination sounds a little like Janis Joplin performing an unplugged set backed up by the Beastie Boys, and ought, if nothing else, to be the occasion, at some point in the afterlife, for a bemused conversation between Donald Fagan, Walter Becker and Kurt Cobain.
Neil Finn: She Will Have Her Way #1
"Includes 2 bonus tracks", boast the stickers on the front of both parts of the lead single from Neil Finn's solo album, Try Whistling This. Often "bonus" means "not available elsewhere", but here it means "other than the one whose title is on the front", evidently, as the second tracks in both cases, here "Astro" and on part two "Faster Than Light", appear on the album, or on the US edition of it at any rate. Of course, the singles came out before the album, so I didn't know at the time that I was paying ten dollars each for two songs, but I suppose on average Neil Finn's songs are probably worth a lot more than ten dollars each, to me, so the album, which has thirteen songs for about as many dollars, is ludicrously under-priced, and I shouldn't complain. Either way, the track your first ten dollars buys you is "808 Song", whose title has an unfinished ring, but which doesn't seem to be missing anything obvious. Jerky verses vaguely reminiscent of Finn's Split Enz past alternate with languid, Crowded House-style choruses. Whether ten dollars per song makes economic sense for you is a matter for you and your accountant. (On second thought, actually, your accountant's blood-pressure will probably fare better if you just tell him you had a big stack of tens and misplaced it.)
Neil Finn: She Will Have Her Way #2
The bonus on the second disc is "Identical Twin", which overcomes a "Rhiannon"-ish intro to unfold into another breathy, mid-tempo Finn ballad. A somewhat desultory beat-box rhythm keeps this one from sounding done to me, though, and if it weren't for the phrase "Identical twin" appearing in the lyrics, I'd have guessed that the bonus tracks' titles were reversed, and that "808" refers to the old Roland drum-machine.
New Model Army: Wonderful Way to Go #1
New Model Army aren't quite as miserly with the b-sides on the lead singles from their current album, Strange Brotherhood. Part one (red lettering) does include a pointless radio edit along with the album version of the title track, but spaces the two out with two new songs. "Refugee" is tense and muted, Justin Sullivan's weary, nasal chant accompanied by a steady drum loop, circling helicopters and a little surreptitious keyboard ambience. "South West" dispenses with sonic experiment and roars into a straight-ahead guitar-bass-drums rock song, like an older and less-sanguine "White Coats", edging away from stentorian agit-punk toward 54-40, perhaps, or Everclear, or reclaiming some of the seething, suppressed fury that, in NMA's absence, I'd taken to getting from Whipping Boy.
New Model Army: Wonderful Way to Go #2
Part two (white lettering) adds three concert recordings, two of which, unusually, are also new songs. "F#NY" (not sure what this means; NMA of all people would have said "Fuck New York" if that was what they meant) is a brisk, thrashing sing-along, ragged gang-vocal harmonies and slashing guitar blending like two different chemical states of the same insurgent determination. "BD7", the second one, is unexpectedly uncomplicated three-chord stomp, only a bit of acoustic-guitar jangle needed to turn it into a Mike Peters song. The resuscitated old one is the plaintive, claustrophobic "The Ballad of Bodmin Pill", from 1989's Thunder and Consolation, which after nine years sounds more like a thesis statement with every repetition: "How we all dance with this fire, / 'Cause it's all that we know". They keep making these songs, because how else will they fill the years? And yes, you could argue that we've heard them before, and even, although this is dangerous overconfidence, that we don't really need churning rants like these at the moment, but even if that's true, somebody has to preserve the secret of their construction, because we're sure to need them some day.
Gary Numan: Dominion Day #1
He has an audience again, weirdly, but Gary Numan would do nothing differently, I think, if he were the last human alive. Surely it isn't us complaining about his songs that drives him to endlessly revise and reconstruct them, as if improving technology has allowed him to identify increasingly microscopic flaws in the existing versions that demand correction. The first part of this pair of singles provides a video edit of "Dominion Day" itself, an extended mix of "Dead Heaven" (also from Exile), a 1997 concert performance of "Cars" (the eleventh appearance of the song in my Numan collection, and I don't have the EP of remixes of it), and a "20th Anniversary" re-recording of the early single "Voix" (a relative rarity; I only have two other versions of it, neither the 1978 original). This selection is obviously intended for initiates, only, and of questionable consequence even for them, as the extended "Dead Heaven" will be on the eventual Exile (Extended Mixes), and I imagine everybody else is knee deep in "Cars" remakes, too. But then again, neither "Voix" nor "Cars" were on the 1994 concert double-album Dark Light, so the most recent versions in circulation date back to Dream Corrosion, in 1993, and both songs have evolved noticeably since then. For fans living in regions not reached by Numan's tours, then, these offer a taste of how his old material has been adapted to his new aesthetic. Or for those of us in the path, a memento for after the ringing stops.
Gary Numan: Dominion Day #2
Part two has the extended mix of "Dominion Day" (though again, a whole album of these is supposedly forthcoming), anniversary remakes of "Metal" (from The Pleasure Principle; my 8th version) and "Down in the Park" (from Replicas; my 11th), and a live recording, since the new songs have a lot of catching up to do, of "Dominion Day". Again, not a missionary tract, but the remakes are a rather startling combination of familiar and reconceived elements (the combination of the ominous new synth-bass fills and pulses and matte piano ripples on "Down in the Park" are enough to justify the whole single, for me), and maybe Numan's attempt to show, in the context of all the recent covers and other people's remixes of his songs, that he's as good at reinterpreting himself as anybody else.
Radiohead: Airbag/How Am I Driving?
When I put OK Computer away after writing about it, almost a year ago to the day, I did so with no immediate plans to listen to it again, and indeed, a year has gone by and I'm exactly no more interested in hearing it than I was then. It made me alarmingly depressed, and while courting discomfort is a worthwhile habit, once in a while there are pains sharp enough to inspire no wish to feel them repeated. The album topped countless 1997 critics' lists, so I doubt the band are troubled by my personal aversion to it. But even so, I've felt guilty, and jealous. I loved The Bends; how could I abandon Radiohead so completely? So many people found so much brilliance in an album that made me abjectly miserable; clearly some tragic incapacity of my own is making me miss a remarkable experience. But it's no use: just picturing myself reaching for the album makes my throat convulse. I haven't been buying the singles, either, a dramatic token of my crisis of faith after all the Bends singles I amassed. And this, in the end, is what suggests a partial reconciliation: Airbag/How Am I Driving?, a seven-track EP "aimed at the USA" (as it warns, bluntly, on the cover), collects, conveniently, several of the b-sides I've thus missed, and my curiosity finally overcomes my reluctance to take any further part in Radiohead's participatory symphony of misanthropy.
The good news is that I have managed to listen to this EP several times, now, without wanting to kill anybody. I haven't, I must admit, tried to scrutinize the lyrics, so my equilibrium may be artificial, but I'm not going to risk Heisenberg interference, so the illusion will go unchallenged. Musically, the EP is inevitably somewhat erratic, given its b-side origins, but it sounds enough like OK Computer for me to believe that I've come to terms with a proxy for the era, which is all I wanted. "Airbag" itself is clattering and elegiac, Yorke's vocal wafting over the choppy drumming as if the two things are part of two entirely different jams, intently oblivious of each other. "Pearly" is much less abstruse, guitar feedback and cymbal hiss swirling around like a midpoint between Eno/U2 atmospherics and the blaring disharmony of the Boo Radleys' C'Mon Kids. The abstract instrumental "Meeting in the Aisle", complementarily, foregoes distortion bluster entirely, substituting heavily processed guitar chimes and a cheesy drum-machine groove. "A Reminder", a few slow, speculative chord-progressions over a bed of crowd murmur, sounds like Radiohead's answer to the Cowboy Junkies or Low. "Polyethylene [Parts 1 & 2]", after a desolate voice-and-acoustic-guitar introduction, explodes into Radiohead's old guitar-wall confidence, with only their hesitance to embrace the proffered 4/4 beat to prompt comparisons to prog-rock, instead of "Anyone Can Play Guitar" and "Creep". "Melatonin", Yorke, some glassy synthesizers and a burbling beat-box, would be a functional lullaby if it didn't jerk to a stop so gracelessly at the end. And "Palo Alto", the finale, gales of space noise, busy signals and rough-edged guitar mock-bravado, is like a rock song that's been half-disemboweled while still alive, so that you can see its internal organs glistening as it flails, searching for the source of its pervasive agony. I'm sure modern technology provides a less invasive way to peer inside a frayed mind, one that doesn't expose the observer to the madness in the course of demonstrating it, as much, and it's probably still an exaggeration to say I enjoy this, but it's a compromise, and perhaps the seed of détente.
Alanis Morissette: "Uninvited"
If I gravitate to a Radiohead single because I can't face the album, I reach gingerly for this new Alanis Morissette song, the only thing I don't instantly forget on the soundtrack to City of Angels, out of almost the opposite fear. The expectations her second album groans under, even before she's thought of its first notes, are hopelessly unmanageable. Jagged Little Pill was, both for me and for the millions of other people who bought it, albeit probably for different reasons, a pristine moment of perfect fortuity, and there's almost no imaginable way its follow-up won't be a complete disaster in some obvious sense. A part of me wishes she'd just quit, now, instead of taking the risk. But another part of me realizes that the album could easily be a disaster in all the senses I don't happen to care about, and a millennial triumph in all the ones I do. It's difficult to know how to assign probabilities to these two scenarios, and thus I approach this song half paralyzed by trepidation.
After hearing it I can move again, but most of the questions have been deferred, not answered. She still sings like Alanis, the accompaniment, for which she receives sole writing credit, combines humming guitars, sturdy drums and some histrionic string runs (it is a soundtrack song, after all), and the dynamics swell and plunge acrobatically. It sounds like an Alanis Morissette song, but after a million repetitions of Jagged Little Pill I expect almost anybody could fashion one or two plausible isolated facsimiles of the style; composing a whole coherent second album will be an order of complexity harder. It is the lyrics that start, dangerously, to raise my hopes: they will be misread as a comment on her celebrity, I'm pretty sure ("Like anyone would be, / I am flattered by your fascination with me", the song begins), but if you have the patience to transcribe more than the first couplet (and don't get distracted by the parts I can't figure out, unless the second verse really is rhyming "stoic squirrel" with "burning shepherd"), you find, unsurprisingly, a relationship song, and one that fits comfortably into the puzzle of which "Head Over Feet" and "Not the Doctor" are other pieces, as its narrator struggles to understand the tension between a suitor's persistence and her own rules and defense mechanisms. "You're uninvited, an unfortunate slight", she says, as if his status is somehow external to their interaction, something they both have to reluctantly account for, and certain courses of action that would be open if she had chosen him are simply not available when the impetus is reversed. "I don't think you unworthy", she finally explains, "I need a moment to deliberate", and there, to my pleased surprise, the song ends, leaving us to wonder how the deliberation turns out, or whether the point is that she's walled herself in so securely that resolution is impossible. A lot of people sniped at the text of Jagged Little Pill (with a wildly inappropriate indignation, I thought, given the standard of inanity other pop lyrics generally adhere to), but I felt, listening to it, like I was reliving all the heartbreakingly poignant moments of grand revelation I had when I was her age, when every immortal truth, no matter how old in fact, was new to me. It's easy to forget, after all, that the millions of copies of Jagged Little Pill we bought are something we imposed on Alanis, not something she claimed for herself. She doesn't owe us anything, and she isn't responsible for our tastes. I pray that when her second album comes out, we remember that. No, that's futile; I pray that when her second album comes out, she remembers that. We are too eager to take kids who hardly know themselves, yet, and crush them under our insistence that they internalize all our characteristics, aspirations and illusions along with their own. You could see it in Ronaldo's eyes, trapped in the Stade de France, as the French felt their fingers start to close around the Cup. "You told me I was the best player in the world", I could almost hear him saying. "But I can't feel my own body. I can't see the ball, I can't move. I need to go home. But where, now, will I go? If I was the world's hero, now I have let the world down, so who is left?" Did Jagged Little Pill make it to Brazil, I wonder? He needs it, now. "Perfect", to pull the toxins out, and then "Hand in My Pocket", to sing the courage to begin again. We turn on our heroes so quickly, the moment they betray a frailty. But don't we see, it is only the acceptance of their frailties that makes them our heroes?
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