100 Days Project

Michael: Saving the languishing lyrical gems of modern pop

My aim is to trawl through my memory, my "record collection" and quotation references to unearth great pop poetry, drop it in, shine it up, make a comment or two as to its origin and personal impact. Enlighten? Hmm. Entertain, amuse, I hope. 100 times.

Day 94:

Desire As...

Fidelity. Funny old thing. Remember that supposed exchange Paul Newman had with a journo when asked how he could have stayed faithful to Joanna Woodward all those years?  And he said, "I will tell you something which may sound corny but which happens to be true. I have steak at home. Why should I go out for hamburger?" I remember in my innocent youth thinking how sweet that was, until some smartarse English pseud defended infidelity, using the salad dresser's quote as a springboard by saying, "you know what: sometimes you just feel like a fucking burger."

Quite. Fidelity has very much been a rich seam for pop lyricists to mine since the dawn of time. Or, to be fair, it's deadly opposite, infidelity. Lyin', cheatin' and stealin' isn't just the sole domain of country songwriters, of course, the whole baby-I'm-sorry-please-take-me-back story one that's been trashed and thrashed by just about anyone with a pen and/or a plectrum.

What's more difficult is finding someone who's written cleverly about it. "Whatever I said/whatever I did/I didn't meant it/I just want you back for good" might have sold a gazillion copies (and I own a Cassingle of that Take That missive forChrissakes) but, y'know, we can do better than that.

Neil Finn has been quoted as saying "Into Temptation" is about an incident that he could see hjow clearly it could have happened and he just followed the thought process through like any good artistic observer: what would it have been like? How would you feel? What would she say? Etc. Without leaving his stool, if I remember the article correctly.

There was Neil, hotel bar, and there was something about the hope/despair encapsulated in the "new blue dress" that set his lyrical gears grinding. One of his more straightforward offerings, it is exquisitely scored, judiciously sung and beautifully worded. "The guilty get no sleep/in the last slow hours of morning", he intones, like someone who knows. "A muddle of nervous words/could never amount to betrayal". Couldn't it? And those famous words of the guilty: "Don't tell". But there's much more besides:

"You opened up your door
I couldn't believe my luck
You in your new blue dress
Taking away my breath
The cradle is soft and warm
Couldn't do me no harm
You're showing me how to give

Into temptation
Knowing full well the earth will rebel

A muddle of nervous words
Could never amount to betrayal
The sentence is all my own
The price is to watch it fail
As I turn to go
You looked at me for half a second
With an open invitation for me to go

Into temptation
Knowing full well the earth will rebel
Into temptation
Safe in the wide open arms of hell

The guilty get no sleep
In the last slow hours of morning
Experience is cheap
I should've listened to the warning
But the cradle is soft and warm

Into temptation
Knowing full well the earth will rebel
Into your wide open arms
No way to break the spell
Don't tell..."

Somehow he's not self-piteous where, my old mate Paddy McAloon, well, he's full of self hate, which is never attractive, but it's more attractive, in a song, at least, than the "notches on the bedpost" mentality of a hundred Kanyes and beyond. The vibe of "Desire As" is almost Victorian, somehow, the imagery, certainly, and maybe it's the use of "sylph-like", a hyphenated delight that I've not struck in any of, say, Justin Bieber's work. Hmmm. Whether you sympathise with Paddy's protagonist or not, you can't deny he knows what he's lost:

"I've got six things on my mind you're no longer one of them

They were the best times,
the harvest years with jam to lace the bread
So goodness, goodness knows why I'd throw it to the birds

But there it is, and there we are
And all I ever want to be is far from the eyes that ask me
In whose bed you're gonna be and is it true you only see
Desire as a sylph figured creature who changes her mind?

It's perfect as it stands, so why then crush it in your perfect hands?

So tell me, you must have thought it all out in advance
Or goodness, goodness knows why you'd throw it to the birds
You mock the good things, you play the heart strings,
Play them one by one

It's perfect as it stands, so why then crush it in your perfect hands?"

As Paddy says in another song off the same album: "Horsin' around's a serious business/last thing you want somebody to witness/I was the fool who always believed that/I'd wear the shoes and you'd be the doormat"

Ahh, as someone else once sang, "missed chances and the same regrets"...