Intensities in Ten Suburbs

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10 Years, 100 Songs: #52. “For Me, It Didn’t Go Wrong, We Just Made Another Song…”

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on August 22, 2009

Over the final months of our fine decade, Intensities in Ten Suburbs will be sending the Naughty Oughties out in style with a series of essays devoted to the top 100 songs of the decade–the ones we will most remember as we look back fondly on this period of pop music years down the road. The archives can be found here. If you want to argue about the order, you can’t, because we’re not totally sure what the qualifications are either. Otherwise, sit back and enjoy.

It took me a long, long time to get this song. It didn’t help that I always found (and still find) Vocalcity, Luomo’s dance-aficianado-adored 2000 LP, to be somewhat obscenely overrated. Six songs long, Vocalcity stretched over nearly 77 minutes of minimally adorned house music, light on hooks and more than a little bit heavy on repetition. It was hypnotic in a way, but in another, more accurate way, it was unbearably dull. It was probably somewhat innovative at the time in its minimalism, but listening to it today, most of it just sounds like unremarkable chic-restaurant background music. It’s almost worth listening to, though, just to get to “Tessio,” the album’s climax and centerpiece, a song gorgeous, brilliant and heart-rending enough to make the ridiculous tension of sitting through the previous 52 minutes of tedium feel just like one virtually endless buildup to the song’s grandeur.

Of course, there’s really not all that much separating “Tessio” from the lesser fare on Vocalcity. For one thing, it’s still eye-wideningly long–12:08 in its entirety, and not a particularly quick 12:08 at that. And musically, it’s certainly of a piece with the rest of the album–with light synths, slippery bass and a gently propulsive beat, “Tessio” is far more methodical and sinewy in its energy rather than outwardly floor-filling, better equipped for introspective train rides and charmingly awkward make-out sessions than for any sort of actual club experience. The bass line is a little more maximalized and catchy than most of the other grooves, probably, but without one key difference, there wouldn’t be much to keep it from blending in my head with “Market” and “The Right Wing” and other any of the other songs on Vocalcity that I have to Wikipedia to come up with the names of. And that key difference? Why, the vocals, of course.

I have never heard a dance song use words quite like Luomo does here. Generally, it’s on the uncommon side for minimal house acts to use vocals at all, and when they do, they tend to either be in a standard verse/chorus format or just come from looped samples of a couple key phrases. Ironically (or perhaps not ironically, who knows the tonal intricancies of the French’s sense of humor exactly) for an album titled Vocalcity, the album is largely voxless, aside from a song or two with the looped-phrase thing, and “Tessio.” What “Tessio” achieves is a very unusual mixture of the two methodologies of using house vocals. Basically, it’s a loop of one verse, replayed throughout the song in bits and pieces–but it’s a fairly long and intricate verse, and one with surprisingly compelling lyrics. It drifts in and out of the song (when you have twelve minutes to work with, you have a lot of time to let things drift in and out), until being replaced altogether with a second, much shorter verse, but one repeated much more frequently. It probably doesn’t sound that unorthodox on paper, but that’s just part of the sneaky appeal of “Tessio”–you don’t realize how unusual and groundbreaking it is until you’ve listened to it so much it’s already one of your favorite songs.

Structurally, it builds up like a champ, too. At first it’s just the warped bass flickering in and out of range while faint synths echo and a disembodied voice repeats something indeterminate in the background. Then the vocals come in: “I guess you turn me on on / When you’re gone / For me, it didn’t go wrong / We just made another song.” The lyric goes on–four stanzas and sixteen lines in all–as the beat begins to click into focus, finally kicking into full gear by the verse’s end. The song’s basically about a strained relationship, where one party (or possibly both) seems unable to fully committ to it (or at least the monogamous aspect of it). Every line is sharp and evocative, the kind of emotional detail that 99% of house producers would never think would be needed for their songs. That first line is a total killer, as is “It’s just that the world ain’t enough / And it never was for the two of us,” and the final part, “I try to be all yours / although I ain’t answering your calls / Don’t say it’s false / I’m only following my thoughts.”

It’s weird to have a main verse this long for dance music, since so much of the genre is geared towards the anthemic. And “Tessio” is anthemic–quite stunningly so–but it’s also a challenge to sing along with, as you tend to only remember isolated words and phrases from the main lyric. That’s why it’s such a relief when that second, short verse comes in, (although Luomo–real name Vladislav Delay–makes you earn it, teasing you with it halfway through the song and then holding off its recurrence for another four minutes or so): “Baby, it’s OK / We’ll make it better / Baby, I’ll…I’ll survive / Without these women in my life.” From a storyline perspective as well, it’s brilliant, as it works almost as a conclusion to the dilemma of the first verse, but the conclusion itself is unclear, leaving somewhat ambigous whether it’s intended as a genuine resolution or just as an “I don’t want to deal with this anymore” burying of the issue. It’s surprisingly touching–especially as the entire thing sounds like it’s sung by at least one male and one female voice, as if being independently performed by both sides of the relationship, without either realizing the other feels the same way. (Or maybe that’s just what all Luomo vocals sound like, hard to say).

In any event, the song is totally transfixing–and not in that patronizing way I called the album “hypnotic” above, as in just to mean “not particularly attention grabbing.” I mean it’s a song that really gets under your skin, a groove that pulses through you equally in mind, body and spirit. I mean it’s a song that lasts for over twelve minutes, but when it starts to wind down, you think to yourself “damn, it’s over already?” I mean it’s a song where after listening, the lyrics continue to creep into your brain in weird and unexpected ways, until you find yourself belting out “don’t SAYYYYY it’s false!” while waiting for a subway or standing at a urinal or something. Ultimately, it’s one of the key dance songs of the Naughty Oughties, twisting the genre’s conventions for something cool and unexpected, something still somewhat unnerving almost a whole decade later. It’s also one of the few songs of the 0s that you can envision as having been inspired by (or sung about) Abe Vigoda’s character in The Godfather. That’s not ever going to be a bad thing.

The List So Far (Now With Links!):

100. Green Day – “Jesus of Suburbia
99. The Ying Yang Twins – “Wait (The Whisper Song)
98. Crazytown – “Butterfly
97. Taylor Swift – “Teardrops on My Guitar
96. The Fray – “Over My Head (Cable Car)
95. Fergie – “Fergalicious
94. Lidstrom – “I Feel Space
93. Chevelle – “Send the Pain Below
92. T-Pain f/ Yung Joc – “Buy U a Drank (Shawty Snappin’)
91. The Arctic Monkeys – “I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor
90. Cassie – “Me & U
89. Nelly Furtado – “Maneater
88. Mike Jones f/ Slim Thug & Paul Wall – “Still Tippin’
87. Bat for Lashes – “Daniel
86. The Darkness – “I Believe in a Thing Called Love
85. Dynamite Hack – “Boyz n the Hood
84. DJ Khaled f/ T.I., Rick Ross, Fat Joe, Birdman, Lil’ Wayne & Akon – “We Takin’ Over
83. Matchbox20 – “Bent
82. The Game f/ 50 Cent – “Hate It or Love It
81. 311 – “Amber
80. 3 Doors Down – “Krptonite
79. Nas – “Made You Look
78. Royksopp – “Eple
77. The Pussycat Dolls – “Don’t Cha
76. DMX – “Party Up (Up in Here)
75. Junior Senior – “Move Your Feet
74. Twista f/ Kanye West & Jamie Foxx – “Slow Jamz
73. The Streets – “Weak Become Heroes
72. Jimmy Eat World – “The Middle
71. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs – “Maps
70. Snoop Dogg f/ Pharrell – “Drop It Like It’s Hot
69. Alice DeeJay – “Better Off Alone
68. Xiu Xiu – “I Luv the Valley OH!
67. Incubus – “Stellar
66. Mariah Carey – “We Belong Together
65. Andrew W.K. – “Party Hard
64. Jurgen Paape – “So Weit Wie Noch Nie
63. Taking Back Sunday – “MakeDamnSure
62. Kid Cudi – “Day n Nite
61. Paramore – “That’s What You Get
60. System of a Down – “Toxicity
59. dNTEL f/ Ben Gibbard – “(This Is) The Dream of Evan and Chan
58. Three 6 Mafia f/ 8Ball & MJG – “Stay Fly
57. Good Charlotte – “The Anthem
56. The Lonely Island – “Lazy Sunday
55. Darude – “Sandstorm
54. Yellowcard – “Ocean Avenue
53. The Killers – “Mr. Brightside

One Response to “10 Years, 100 Songs: #52. “For Me, It Didn’t Go Wrong, We Just Made Another Song…””

  1. 1. Have you not heard the shorter, more polished version of “Tessio” Luomo included on The Present Lover? I love Vocalcity, but I have the feeling you’d much prefer the other album (and it’s got more vocals in general too); if you’d like to hear it, mention it on the Stylus board and I’ll hook you up.

    2. Vladislav Delay is another pseudonym; his real name is Sasu Ripatti.

    Other than that, I loved this one. Great song.

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