Thursday, May 13, 2010

Song of the Week: Foo Fighters "Up In Arms"

What do you get when you combine the Foo Fighters, an old-school Beatles melody, multiple personality disorder, and 136 seconds of pop-rock glory?

A Song of the Week, that's what.

Song of the Week: Foo Fighters, "Up In Arms"

For such a short and simple song, it raises a lot of questions.

--Why does it begin in such a melancholy, dazed place?
--Why does Grohl sing this opening 50-seconds with an uncharacteristically "loose" delivery (i.e., lyrics enjamb into the next, lagging behind the song's pace, etc.)?
--What's with the whistling (0:51)?
--And the biggie: Why does the song stop suddenly (0:50) and transform into a fast-paced rock song? And why do the lyrics stay practically the same when this happens (wouldn't a musical change account for a lyrical change?)?

The song's about an on-again, off-again relationship that repeats its makeups and breakups in a predictable way. So, writing a song that musically repeats itself with a cold/hot duality makes sense. I get it. I'm onboard.

Still, it's an odd choice for a very-pop-rock band; we love the Foo because they consistently give us exactly what we want and expect. The song works, of course, because it still offers the other reasons we love the Foo: great production and performances, self-effacing humor (my theory for the whistling), and the sense that even their sad stories have happy endings. And, of course, the melody.

I love the song for that melody, which sounds to me like an early Beatles (or even proto-Motown) tune. Dave Grohl is simply one of our best melodists, always able to place any complex idea or unexpected weirdness in an accessible, fan-friendly package. We trust him, and keep listening, because the songs are so fun. Even when they have multiple-personality disorder.

Other artists have dabbled in "alternate takes" of the same song. That is, they put the same song on the album twice with vastly different treatments.

Some examples:
--Wilco: "Outtasite (Outta Mind)" and "Outta Mind (Outta Sight)" - Being There
--Josh Ritter: "Wait for Love" and "Wait for Love (You Know You Will)" - Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter
--And rumor has it the next Cory Branan album will have a fast and slow version of "Survivor Blues"

What are some others? Can you think of other songs with multiple personality disorder, like "Up In Arms"? Let me know!


Ben Levy said...

I love this song, but I never took the time to think of it like this. Things like this really make The Colour and The Shape an amazing record. If you think back to "Lounge Act" by Nirvana is a good example of a song where the same lyrics are reused in a different tone. I think the Smashing Pumpkins might have done something similar too with "The End Is the Beginning Is the End" and "The Beginning Is the End Is the Beginning". I only like the The Beginning Is the End... version though.

Chris Milam said...

Great calls, Ben! I need to go listen to that whole Pumpkins album now--can't remember which of the two I preferred.

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