Wednesday, July 21, 2004


I finally got my copies of The Spine and The Spine Surfs Alone today. I actually managed to borrow some mp3s of The Spine over the weekend, so I've been able to listen to that while I waited for the actual CDs to arrive. Thus, I have various things to say about it, now that it's had a chance to sink in a bit. I nearly always need a little time with new TMBG songs to determine what I really think about them, and even then it can change considerably over time. That's half the fun, of course.

Museum of Idiots, though, was one song that I liked right away, even from the original Dial-a-Song version, so I was very happy that it made it onto this album. It's a waltz! Plus, the instrumental bits have a few parts with accents on the 1's and the 5's, which would make for some interesting pivots. (Regular pivots on 1 and 3, then accelerate a little bit on last pivot, count 5.) I don't generally like to pick absolute favorites, even just from a single album, but this song is definitely up there.

I've seen a lot of comments on how well the tracks are arranged and flow together across the whole album. There are lots of obvious things, like the Spine -> Memo to Human Resources segue, or the Au Contraire -> Damn Good Times connection. And overall it is very nicely put together. But I particularly like the unit of three songs that round off the end of the album. They're all in F, which groups them a little bit, but the sequence is interesting as well.

This sequence starts with Broke in Two, which is another of my favorites, though I didn't notice it until the second time I heard it. I particularly like Linnell's voice on it, and the guitar part. The ending is interesting because it suddenly goes all garbled, like a faulty record, then zips its way up to a high pitch and pops into nothingness. By itself, that's kind of a neat ending, but the great thing about it is that the next song is Stalk of Wheat. So I get the feeling that, by the end of Broke in Two, something really did snap. The tension built until the narrator just couldn't take it anymore, and decided to just go mad and have done with it. So Stalk of Wheat is all about being out of luck and broke and miserable, but it's still a delightfully silly little song. I especially like all the lines with connecting words, linking rhymes and alliterations.

Then at the end, there's I Can't Hide From My Mind, which is rather on the darker side of being crazy, pitting himself against his own mind, and is a nice musical complement to the previous two. What really does it for me in this song are the chord progressions which have some gorgeous flat sixths. For instance, the Db in the progression: (C) F Bb Db / C F Bb C. You've got to hear it in context to fully get it, though. The Db lands on an F in the melody so you'd have expected an F chord there. Great effect. And then the second chorus leading into the bridge is pretty neat, too. The final F chord slides down to an E (mimicking the Db to C transition from before) which leads you to A for the bridge. But then A goes to F, which goes to Db, spelling out an augmented chord. That's nice both for how it ties in with the augmented fifths (= flat sixths) and for all the slithery voice leading you can do with the progression. (Each transition there keeps one note the same and moves the others by a half-step each.) So this was the song that made the music geek in me happy.

A few other random comments on various songs, before I finish up. I've heard some good things about It's Kickin' In but that one hasn't quite kicked in for me yet. Still, I do like how the lyrics sheet actually says "(fake words)" where they're just making noises. Memo to Human Resources has another one of those flat sixths, though it works a bit differently there. Experimental Film is still a fun song, but not as absorbing as it was for me at first. Maybe because I got my fill of it for a while before the album was out, and now other earworms are taking its place. Wearing a Raincoat is one I'm going to have to be with for a while longer before I start grokking it.

Now that I have the actual physical CD, of course, I'm also noticing the liner notes. Someone actually did an awesome job designing this. But that will probably be a topic for another post. Likewise, I'll need a few more listens to The Spine Surfs Alone before I can say anything worthwhile about it.

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