Intensities in Ten Suburbs

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Request Line: “Oliver’s Army,” “The Way I Feel Inside,” “Heart of Mine,” “I’m Always in Love”

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on August 31, 2010

Reader Andrew (Not me! I don’t think!) writes:

Anyway, try these ones on for size?

Elvis Costello – Oliver’s Army
The Zombies – The Way I Feel Inside
Peter Salett – Heart Of Mine
Wilco – I’m Always In Love

I hate trying things on–it’s a socially and physically uncomfortable experience that I like to avoid whenever possible. I’ll just buy ‘em straight up and get back to you about the receipts later.

I’m in on this song for its first two lines: “Don’t start me talking / I could talk all night.” After that, I’m totally lost. Wouldn’t be the first time in history that a punk song has confused me as to its real-life application–I did spend a healthy chunk of my youth rapping along to Rage Against the Machine, after all–but there’s just no entry point for me here at all. Oliver’s Army? The Murder Mile? Checkpoint Charlie? Costello doesn’t give a damn about stringing it together comprehensively, and just puts his faith in his overbearing sneer to get his point across. Maybe all this stuff made sense in 1979 (I’d hope so, since a Wikipedia cheat sheet wouldn’t be available for another 35 years), but even if not, a good punk protest song should at least make you feel like you kinda get the gist of what it’s going for as you’re singing along to it at the top of your lungs. I just feel kinda dumb singing along to “Oliver’s Army”–like I’m being patronizing and indignant about nothing in particular.  I dunno, replace it with some sly and cutting lyrics about love and maybe you’ve got “Cruel to Be Kind,” but as is I just can’t get into it at all. Shame, too, ‘coz that piano part had some obvious potential. The “oh-oh-oh-ohhhh“s, too.

I’m not that huge on Armed Forces in general, to be honest–it crosses that line from being self-righteous and pissed off (cool) to being smug and condescending (less cool), and the increased production budget isn’t exactly helping matters on that front. There’s room for sophistication in punk, no doubt, and a lot of this is probably a matter of personal preference, but I just find Elvis Costello to be more appealing at his more direct–I was even all about those bedroom demos at the end of the My Aim is True reissue. Yeah, Elvis couldn’t spend his whole life singing about sexual frustration, but if I’m given the choices of an album with song titles like “Allison” or “No Action” and one with “Two Little Hitlers” and “Oliver’s Army”…chances are I’m not going with the latter too often. (Which is not to say his only good songs were on his first too albums, but I’d need to kind of pick and choose from the rest. Despite what you may have been told, nobody needs twenty tracks of Get Happy!!.)

My roommates love it, though. If they see this article, they’ll probably sing it on our 70s karaoke night just to spite me.

Had not heard this one before–not that I realized, anyway. But it’s really quite lovely, isn’t it? Nothing new for the Zombies, of course, who basically made two separate careers out of such loveliness, but I had no idea they had a song this austere in them. My problem with Odessey and Oracle is actually that it often bordered on the unnecessarily ornate–the songs were good fairly across the board, but some of them just weren’t substantial enough to be able to bear the weight of those lush productions. A sub-2:00 b-side, just a simple but somewhat twisty vocal line showcasing the band’s skill at manipulating unusual rhythms and off-kilter chord progressions in still highly-accessible pop songs, with nothing but some understated late organ for accompaniment. It’s insidious, it’s intimate, and as just about any song largely sung solo a capella ultimately turns out, it’s the littlest bit spooky as well. Basically, it’s a pretty fucking cool way to spend 94 seconds of your life.

When I say that I hadn’t consciously heard the song before, I add the qualifier because I guess I’d heard the song the handful of times I’d seen The Life Aquatic with Steve Zisou, as the song apparently plays over the burial scene out at sea. I’m not wild about the way they use the song–yeah, I guess the haunting and melancholy vibe of the whole thing makes it a good fit for a funeral (especially with the organ part), but…I dunno, feels kinda cheap to me. Might just be general overkill with Wes Anderson and 60s psych-pop obscurities–hard to shake the feeling of him wanting to put a song he liked in his movie and shoehorning it into the scene that best fit, something of a recurring issue with TLA in general. (Can’t hate on you too much for this, though, Wes, as I’d almost certainly be the same way were it me behind the camera. C’mon guys, let’s use “Electric Blue” for this party scene at the beach! ‘Coz, uh, the water’s blue, and the chemistry between the two leads is electric! Don’t worry, the audience will understand!)

Interesting to hear the full band version of this inside. Lacks a smidge of the original’s singular charm, naturally, but still works surprisingly well as more of a garden-variety British Invasion production–almost like a moodier cousin to The Beatles’ “If I Fell.” I can get down with that.

Practically a critic-proof song, this. Just a nice, unobjectionable little number. Some lyrical quibbles, perhaps (“Do you want to know / If everything that glitters / Will turn into the gold / I see inside your hair”–not exactly Sonnet 18 as it comes to opening stanzas), but delivered earnestly and thoughtfully enough that it would be hard to raise too much of a fuss about them. Short, sweet, the whole megillah. I’m not sure who Peter Salett is, precisely, but given that searching for him on Wikipedia just redirects to the pages for a number of different movie soundtracks, I’m guessing that he’s a singer/songwriter that was put on this planet for the specific and express purpose of writing musical accompaniments to film montages of two people preciously falling in love with each other, as with the Keeping the Faith clip seen above. Hard to argue with–keep on keepin’ on with that, Peter Sallet. Have your voice crack a little more often, it’s adorable.

Since I have nothing more to say about this song, I’d like to take a minute to discuss this clip of Keeping the Faith, a movie I was incensed at having to go see at the age of 13 when I only wanted to watch movies that got ratings of three-and-a-half stars or higher in the Inquirer (KTF got three) and even angrier about it later in the year when I got into a very low-grade high-school love triangle with a friend and a girl and couldn’t stop relating it to Keeping the Faith. I hate this movie for any number of reasons, many of which are not the movie’s fault, but this one certainly is–during this nauseatingly endearing montage, when Ben Stiller decides he’s had enough of Jenna Elfmann’s incessant blabbing on her cell phone, steals it from her mid-conversation, and deposits it into a corner mailbox. Are you fucking kidding me? Cell phone in a mailbox, just to prove a cute point? For any sensible coupling of adults, this is nothing less than an act of war, but in the sunshine, lollipops and rainbows world of Keeping the Faith, it’s just a flirtatious act of intimacy to be performed in consequence-free silhouette. You all should be ashamed of yourselves.

To be fair, now that I’m a little older and a little wiser, I can forgive Edward Norton for this movie, because I understand that it’s just him trying to counterbalance the humongous cinematic injustice of Stiller having lost Winona Ryder to super-chode Ethan Hawke six years earlier in Reality Bites. Karmically speaking, someone had to do it. Sucks it had to be you, Ed–you were coming off a hell of a run there.

Pretty sure when the dust settles on Wilco for me, it’s Summerteeth that’ll hold up the best. Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is probably the better album of the two, but there’s an edge to the best Summerteeth songs that I can’t get enough of, and which just doesn’t seem to be there in quite the same way on YHF. Supposedly Jeff Tweedy was super-fucked on any number of different highly-unprescribed meds and worse during the writing and recording of this one, and there’s a kind of subtly unhinged tension to it that you just don’t find in too many other collections of hooky, perfectly-produced pop/rock such as this. “Via Chicago,” the ballad-y one that begins “I dreamed about killing you again last night / And it felt all right to me,” is probably one of the less creepy songs on the album. The happy-sounding ones are much more disquieting.

“I’m Always in Love” is a great title and chorus hook for such an album, because at first glance it seems like a harmless pop song title, until you start to glance at it from a couple different angles and you realize that it’s kind of a weird thing to say, and could probably be more logically read as a statement of crisis as anything else. (See also: Weezer’s “Can’t Stop Partying,” a song about the physical and emotional toll of a life obligated to ceaseless mirth and merriment.) Wilco were masters of the late-song lyrical shift, most famously using it on Summerteeth to turn a key line in “She’s a Jar” from “She begs me not to miss her” to “She begs me not to hit her.” The twist in “I’m Always in Love” is less jarring but equally effective, as “I’m bragging / I’m always in love” becomes “I’m worried / I’m always in love” by the final chorus, and Tweedy’s shouts of the titular phrase get throatier and significantly more maniacal.

The rest of the song’s lyrics float in and out of comprehensibility, generally sounding lost and anxious and more than a little bit cynical. (“Why, I wonder, is my heart full of hope / And the feeling goes but my hair keeps growing.”) Wise, then, for Jay Bennett to build the song musically around an irresistible whiny synth hook and a pounding, piano-rooted groove (which, possibly not coincidentally, is more than a little reminiscent of “I’m Waiting for the Man”-era VU), making sure the thing was never less than a total blast to listen to. If you don’t listen too closely to the lyrics–easy to do, given how little Tweedy gave a shit about enunciating back in those days–you can sort of believe what you want to about the song, and probably read it as a straight-up summer song if you so desire. Good thing, but really, I think it’s more fun as a drugged-out statement of emotional anarchy. More fun than “Casino Queen,” anyway. And hey, “Casino Queen” is still pretty fun.

I don’t even mind the “Smoke pot / Smoke pot” backing vocals during the bridge. I mean, why not? The rest of the song/album is such a miserable advertisement for soul-sucking drug dependency, you might as well create an extra couple layers of irony by throwing in a cheapy like that. I can get down with that also.

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4 Responses to “Request Line: “Oliver’s Army,” “The Way I Feel Inside,” “Heart of Mine,” “I’m Always in Love””

  1. Luke said

    I think Oliver’s Army is a song that probably made a lot of sense for a British audience in 1979–and for that matter, any contemporaneous or former British colony–but would likely fall on uncomprehending ears here. Young anglo punks might’ve been skipping school and missing out on Oliver Cromwell, but they’re probably way too familiar with seeing friends pulled into the military and shipped off to war.

    The Elvis sneer does get in the way sometimes, but I think it’s justified when aimed at military abuses.

  2. Thanks for trying them on. Well worth the wait. In retrospect, I do wish I would have picked a song to replace “Heart of Mine” that lent itself a bit better to criticism, but I dunno, it’s always been one of my favorites for no apparent reason at all. Just a really great verse melody, I guess. And yep, first heard it in Keeping the Faith when I was like, 9, and will forever associate the two with each other.

    And even though Yankee Hotel Foxtrot was my favorite album from the last decade, I’m still more of a Summerteeth guy, too. You hit the nail on the head as to why.

  3. humanizingthevacuum said

    Hi, Andrew! Here’s three:

    Natural Selection – Do Anything
    Fleetwood Mac – Seven Wonders
    Pet Shop Boys – You Only Tell Me You Love Me When You’re Drunk

  4. rob anderson said

    Are you still doing this blog? Or are you moving on to bigger and better?

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