Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Song of the Week, Revisited

Some things we remember, and some we forget. I remember to feed myself every day; I forget to feed my roommate's fish. I remember the original location for Season 1 of Saved By the Bell (Indiana); I forget algebra, long division, and every ounce of biology I was ever asked to learn.

So, in that spirit, I'm remembering to remember, from here on out, a weekly promise I made a while back (that some of you won't let me forget):

The Milam Song of the Week! This week....

The Raconteurs, "Steady As She Goes":
The Raconteurs are not a supergroup, nor a side project. They're a band made up of folks from other, noteworthy bands--specifically, Jack White (The White Stripes), Jack Lawrence and Patrick Keeler (The Greenhorns), and Brendan Benson (Detroit-based solo artist). "Steady As She Goes" is the band's first single, and Jack White's earliest and most noteworthy contribution to their outstanding debut, Broken Boy Soldiers.

The song begins with a spare, midtempo drumbeat, something not unusual to fans of The White Stripes. This rhythmic foundation is important, however, given the song's later subversion of it. A steady, melodic bass line fills the gaps, followed almost immediately by the song's most important cadence: a memorable three-note riff that foreshadows the song's anxiety and ultimate pessimism. Finally, a staccato chord progression joins the drums, settling nicely on the backbeat, until the 0:33 mark. There, the chord progression becomes syncopated, in obvious conflict with the song's stable foundation.

It's here that Jack begins his story: "Find yourself a girl and settle down/lead a quiet life in a quiet town." This sounds straightforward enough, until the band kicks into overdrive for the refrain, "Steady as she goes..." By now, we've cornered the song's central theme: physical securedness vs. emotional instability. The singer has done what he thought he should do, but the band's performance belies any possibility of a happy ending--distortion reigns through the choruses, and the verses' guitar work becomes even more rhythmically off-balanced and audibly frustrated.

By now, the narrative voice has completely committed himself to his nightmarish ideal. The same man who two verses before declares that he's "had too much to think/now you need a wife," comments blandly, "Settle for a girl, neither up or down/Sell it to the crowd that has gathered 'round." Background vocals echo these sentiments in a round fashion, mocking the speaker's inner monologue. Increased instrumentation clutters up the emotional landscape, too many voices sing at once, and the song's three-note cadence returns this time sounding more like a panicked siren than a sleepy riff. By the song's end, its refrain ("steady as she goes") has become a doomed cry for stability rather than a statement of exuberance--Jack's a victim of his own decisions yet again.

More soon,

P.S. To hear the song, go to The Raconteur's hilariously old-school website, and follow the Media/Audio sections to "Steady As She Goes." Then eat a sandwich. Then enjoy.

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