Saturday, January 17, 2009

The wit and wisdom of Alphabeat

I've listened to Alphabeat's This Is Alphabeat a lot in the past few months. In fact, it's one of the few albums I've listened to repeatedly all the way through. While the Danes' wicked way with hooks obviously is the primary appeal, I've also come to really appreciate their lyrics.

One song really encapsulates the Alphabeat style: "10,000 Nights." Disregarding the conventional verse-chorus-verse structure, the melody is plain addictive (and look at the adorably dorky dance moves in the video), but it's the lyrics that bring it all home: Such a poetic inanity—or is that inane poetry?—is rare, even in the kind of pop I love. See for yourself in this analysis of the entire song (I'll skip repeated lines):

I was not looking for arty-farty love
Hmm, arty-farty feels like a remote possibility if you're in a band like Alphabeat but okay, if you insist on stating the obvious, I'm with you. But why not artsy-fartsy instead of the awkward arty-farty? Would it have thrown off the meter? Is the gassy echo a reference to Serge Gainsbourg's cult novel Evguénie Sokolov?

I wanted someone to love completely
Someone more than weekly

We're starting to get somewhere: No pseudo-intellectual hipsters need apply, and no behaving like a Simenon character with a weekly prostitute habit.

I was looking for a decent boy
Despite visual evidence suggesting the opposite would make more sense, Stine sings this line, not Anders.

For a tender glance
For a safety dance

First meta reference to another song, ie Men Without Hats' "The Safety Dance." Alphabeat slyly suggests it learned English by listening to the radio.

The wuthering heights
And the stormy nights

This is the one-two punch that slays me every single time. It could be a Bronte reference in the first line but I don't think so, meaning we've got another pop allusion, this time to Kate Bush (which makes you revisit the first line: perhaps someone in Alphabeat would like arty-farty after all). And then we have the stormy nights. No verb, just minimalist description. Amazing.

You give me 10,000 nights of thunder
But I will give them all back to you

But why will you give them back? Don't you like the other person anymore? Also do you realize that 10,000 nights is 27 years??? These two lines are bewildering and insanely wonderful.

Cause you're so ooh, you're so aah, you're so cool
This doesn't help at all. Anders is giving back the nights—and not just any nights: nights of thunder—because the object of his affection is…cool? The way Anders grasps for words before settling down for "cool" is rather endearing.

You came like a thief in the night and stole my heart
Like a solitude erasure

Like an elevator

My three favorite lines of the year, no contest. Listening to the song, I thought Stine and Anders sang "Like a solitude eraser"—referring to the thief—but all the lyrics sites I consulted have "erasure." I'm not sure which one I prefer, though "erasure" somehow has a more definitive side to it. The lines are happy but a certain darkness creeps in. That elevator thing, however, is completely cryptic—like something out of a song those bearded indie-rock kids enjoy so much. Is this an example of catachresis? Discuss.

And I know we'd do anything for love
And it is you and me
For all eternity

Whoa, Stine's going all Tristan and Isolde on us! What happened to the arty-farty safety dance?

It feels like 10,000 nights of thunder
When I've spent one with you

A-ha! They didn't literally mean 27 years. Alphabeat is in absolute mastery of all the rhetorical tools at the disposal of a pop lyricist. (Remember the use of analogy in the "solitude erasure/elevator" combo?)

'Cause you're so ooh, you're so aah, you're so cool

You're so super-supremely ba-ba-di-oh

And one of these tools seems to be nonsense, which Stine uses to express the fact that her infatuation is so strong, it prevents her from articulating her thoughts, just like Anders and his bumbling "You're so ooh, so aah." I like the use of the mirror image, plus for some reason it all reminds me of "Bibbidi Bobbidi Boo" from Cinderella.

And baby baby you're irresistible and I'm insatiable

Yeah love is an ocean of sweet emotion

While Alphabeat is a PG band, the first line suggests Anders has needs, like all young men his age. But he immediately drops that sensitive subject and reassures us that he understands the real force to be reckoned with is love. All's well that ends well.

No comments: