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Request Line: “No More No More,” “Change,” “People Who Died,” “Possum Kingdom”

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on September 21, 2010

Reader __ wrote:

are you still doing these, they’re fun

aerosmith – no more no more
fleetwood mac – what makes you think you’re the one
deftones – change
steely dan – the boston rag

Then later amended to:

i take back the song requests i posted on your blog. feeling good about these:

people who died
tainted love
any associates song
possum kingdom

I told him I’d do two of each of these….so I’m gonna do that.

Not having listened to an Aerosmith album since high school, I gotta admit to having completely lost recollection of this song. In fact, all I remember off Toys in the Attic were the two monster singles (“Walk This Way” and “Sweet Emotion,” obviously two of the best rock singles of that decade) and the one piece of obvious filler (“Big Ten Inch Record,” which I hated at the time but would probably think was brilliant for some reason if I listened to it now)–don’t think I could have even named another song off the album if pressed. Listening to “No More No More,” though, I’m surprised that it didn’t make more of an impression–it’s probably the only Aerosmith song I’ve ever heard that doesn’t sound definitively and uncompromisingly like an Aerosmith song.

From the opening guitar plucking of “No More No More,” I’d expect it to turn into something off #1 Record, or at the very least one of the less-virtuosic early Rush songs. I certainly wouldn’t anticipate it turning into an Aerosmith rave-up–much less one bemoaning the perils of life on the road and begging for them to come to an end. (Though with about half the lyrics being back-handed boasting about their sexual misadventures, it’s hard to read their bitching as being particularly straight-faced.) It ends up being a hell of a song anyway, though. I respect songs that are both willing to stand by the simplicity of their choruses, and not to dwell on them longer than necessary, and if Aerosmith don’t have any commentary more elaborate on the state of affairs then “No more, no more” (in predictably gorgeous two-part harmony, no less), then, well, why bother? And if you’re going to make one of these “Woe is us, we are a rock band” songs, then it’s probably a good move to avoid the Bob Seger-style histrionics and just keep things moving at an upbeat, if somewhat melancholy clip.

Good to know that Aerosmith were capable of such a moment of pretty introspection. Somehow, I doubt “upbeat, if somewhat melancholy” defines the tone of their Walk This Way autobiography, though. Probably for the best.

Feeling like lists with these entries today, so my ten favorite “No More ____” songs:

10. Berlin – “No More Words”
9. Ruff Endz – “No More”
8. The Stranglers – “No More Heroes”
7. Black Flag – “No More”
6. Michel’le – “No More Lies”
5. My Bloody Valentine – “No More Sorry”
4. Pavement – “No More Kings”
3. Annie Lennox – “No More I Love You’s”
2. Ozzy Osbourne – “No More Tears”
1. Alice Cooper – “No More Mr. Nice Guy”

So is this song about deflowering a virgin, or what? Some of the people at the Songfacts page seem to think so, and I’m inclined to maybe agree, though it’s possible that Weezer overexposure has just prejudiced me to think that all songs about insect metamorphosis-type topics are about that. (Is that what HIM’s  “Wings of a Butterfly” is about, too? I only really know the chorus.) Anyway, I sort of hope not–the song’s semi-demonic lurch is a little too adult-sounding to me to be about that kind of adolescent guilt. (And if he means to be bragging about it, that’s just creepy–the wrong kind of creepy for the Deftones, anyway). Besides, we were already getting close to Fat Chino territory by the time of White Pony, so i don’t think we much want to envision him seducing anyone.

This song is fantastic, of course. If we’re talking about ownership of the word “haunting”–one of the most overused words in the music critic lexicon, but one that’s still absolutely unavoidable in certain situations–the top five would be something like (in no particular order):

1. Coil – “Tainted Love”
2. Portishead – “Roads” (and later, for different reasons, “Threads”)
3. Elliott Smith – “Needle in the Hay”
4. Johnny Cash – “Hurt”
5. Deftones – “Change (In the House of Flies)”

Now, the Deftones cheat a little bit to get on the list here, because the distant, wailing synth sounds throughout the song are obviously meant to imply some sort of ghostly infestation. Nonetheless, the result is the same, and listening to “Change” has the kind of psyche-altering effect that the rest of those songs on the list and only a select number of other songs throughout history really do.

As one of the few bands that we both owned CDs by, I asked my metalhead brother once if he and his scene viewed The Deftones as something of a guilty pleasure, since they were obviously accessible enough to appeal to me and others of a more pop-oriented ilk. No, he insisted, they were as metal as anyone. I respected that, because no matter how pretty a song like “Change” is–and it is so very pretty–I could still always feel the metal seeping through at every corner. It’s a positively soul-blackening song, one which makes you reflexively slow your walk and lower your eyes while listening. It feels heavier and more intrinsically violent to me then most of the double-kick-bass-drum metal my brother rounds out his rotation with.

The key, aside from the ghost synths, has got to be the bass line. Subtly bubbling under the surface during the verses, it gives the song its necessary insidious groove (not all that different than their “No Ordinary Love” cover, really) for Chino to deliver his distortedly hushed whispers/come-ons/threats over. The groove is necessary to really get the song under your skin and possess you with its malice–almost so much so that it should be sort of anti-climactic when the screaming guitars inevitably crash-land on the chorus. Luckily, the chorus is strong enough that it never feels like a let-down, and the harmonies on the “ahhh-ahhh‘s at the end are some of the most unsettlignly sublime you’ll ever hear. Heroin, huh.

Great song, great album. If only all metal bands internalized lessons learned from the Cocteau Twins and The Cure as the Deftones did. (OK, that’d be completely disastrous. Couple more wouldn’t hurt though.)

Basically, this song sucks. That’s not to say I don’t like it, but from a songwriting perspective, this couldn’t be much sloppier of a pop/rock song. The verses are reptitive, blow at rhyming and have no consistent sense of meter, the chorus is insultingly lazy and head-smackingly simple, and the whole thing is at least two minutes too long–impressive, considering that the whole thing clocks in at under 4:00. The case for the song would be that there’s an undeniable kind of manic energy to the whole thing belying the sincerity of its intentions, and that it’d probably be pretentious and heartless to bother trying to craft an actual song out of this drunken rant of a punk anthem. Personally, I see both sides of the argument and call it a draw. I’d sing along to “People Who Died,” but probably only once or twice a year.

How about that Basketball Diaries, though? Had to read the book and see the movie in some class I took on New York Literature in high school, and it predictably fit into my love/hate relationship with stories about people who experienced more excitement and danger by the time they were 15 than I will in my entire life. Still watch the movie pretty much any time it’s on TV. My five favorite scenes:

5. Juliette Lewis cackling at strung-out-and-broke Leo: “WHO’S THE WHORE NOW??? AHHAHAHAHAHA!!!”
4. Leo’s exquisitely pained facial expression as he gives it up to some old guy in the Grand Central bathroom for money.
3. The post-funeral basketball scene in the rain, soundtracked by the above song. I think Leo dunks at some point and yells out in anguish. Probably shirtless.
2. The post-downers hoops game where it becomes obvious that Leo and co are druggies, set to “Riders on the Storm.” I have nightmares that play out like that all the time, for some reason.
1. “If we go outside, one of us is gonna get hurt.”
[Leo gets his ass kicked]
(Laughing) “I told you one of us was gonna get hurt!”

Ah, the lessons the vampire enthusiasts of today could have learned from Toadies. (No “The,” apparently. Assholes.) I don’t think I even knew what “Possum Kingdom” was about until years and years after the fact, and while it made sense, it didn’t really significantly change my opinion of the song. Bassist Lisa Umbarger (underrated in the canon of 90s female alt-rock bassists, btx) even insists that’s not what it’s about, but once you listen to it under that presumption, it’s pretty much impossible to read it any other way. The fact that it may very well not be about vampires, but still so very clearly and obviously has to be about vampires–that’s storytelling, motherfucker!

I mean, goddamn, what a cool song this is. Makes better use of the whammy bar than anything else I can think of, certainly–I don’t even think I knew what that thing was used for until I saw this video. Then those opening chords, that missing beat every two measures, the creeping bass line, the distortion-and-feedback-only solo, the countless number of bridges, the octave-up croon-to-wail that Todd Lewis does about a dozen times throughout the song but still works brilliantly every time–I mean, really, what’s not to like? Who doesn’t like “Possum Kingdom”? It’d be inconceivable. Classic song.

Feel a little bit obligated here to mention “Possum Kingdom”‘s ugly step-brother of a follow-up single, “Away.” I absolutely loved it back in the day–think I might have even heard it before PK–but listening to it now, it’s almost comical just what a poor man’s version of their breakout hit the song is. Basically just the same song with its parts slightly out of order. Also, Todd Lewis is wearing glasses in the video. Vampires don’t wear glasses, Todd.

Finally, aside from “Possum Kingdom,” the ten alt-rock one-hit wonders that it was inexcusable that Pitchfork left off their Top 200 Songs of the 90s list (Honorable Mention included):

10. Republica – “Ready to Go”
9. Rollins Band – “Liar”
8. Dada – “Dizz Knee Land”
7. The Posies – “Dream All Day”
6. Butthole Surfers – “Pepper”
5. Luscious Jackson – “Naked Eye”
4. Meat Puppets – “Backwater”
3. The Rentals – “Friends of P”
2. Folk Implosion – “Natural One”
1. Primitive Radio Gods – “Standing Outside a Broken Phone Booth With Money in My Hands”

(In retrospect, several of these exclusions may indeed have been excusable, and Pitchfork actually did a pretty good job covering themselves on this territory. “Possum Kingdom” was a bad one, though, and let’s not get started on the Gin Blossoms.)

And, uh, one sentence on the songs not covered:

“What Makes You Think You’re the One”–Good song but I’ve written before how basically all my favorite Mac songs are Nicks cuts.
“The Boston Rag”–Good song but I’m more of an Aja fan.
“Tainted Love”–Two slots on the list of the top ten covers of all-time belong to the Soft Cell and Coil versions of this, with the former very likely at #1.
Any Associates Song–I like most of what I’ve heard off Sulk, and I’m minorly infatuated with the melodrama of “Tell Me Easter’s on Friday.”

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8 Responses to “Request Line: “No More No More,” “Change,” “People Who Died,” “Possum Kingdom””

  1. Garret said

    Alright, round two for me.

    Paul McCartney – “Press”
    Blur – “You’re So Great”
    Robert Palmer – “Hyperactive”
    Nerf Herder – “Van Halen”

  2. Duff said

    Can’t say I care for Possum Kingdom, to be quite honest. Dead on about Away, though.

  3. MBI said

    Adding four more, get to them whenever:

    Huey Lewis and the News – Hip to Be Square
    The Swinging Blue Jeans – Hippy Hippy Shake
    Shakira ft. Wyclef Jean – Hips Don’t Lie
    Naughty By Nature – Hip Hop Hooray

  4. How could anyone leave “Friends of P” off of any list of 90s hits? That song is a permanent earworm for me. And “Backwater” and “Pepper” made it into my iPod fairly recently.

    and MY GOD! I had forgotten “natural one.” holy hell.

  5. Brent said

    In all honesty, when I listen to Rubberneck as a whole I tend to hear it as a concept album about a serial killer, not a vampire proper. Tinges of split personality and being fucked up by religion in there too, but I tend to over-analyze this sort of thing.

  6. Kevin said

    aw hell, second go-round for me too:

    The Four Tops, “Bernadette”
    Supertramp, “Goodbye Stranger”
    a-ha, “The Sun Always Shines on TV”
    Londonbeat, “I’ve Been Thinking About You”

  7. adam said

    Been enjoying these. Here is my wishlist:

    Alphaville – Sounds Like a Melody
    Bollock Brothers – Harley David
    Chaz Jankel – Glad To Know You
    Frigidaire Tango – Recall

  8. Garret said

    You know what, scratch the Robert Palmer song. There’s not much to say about it, really. Replace with STEVE MILLER BAND – “WILD MOUNTAIN HONEY.”

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