Album: Reunion Tour, 2007
Justification: I said this in the piece on the Weakerthans’ ‘Our Retired Explorer’ back in March 2011 – oh, how time flies! – but it’s worth repeating: no-one writes male guilt more perfectly than John K Samson.
Many songwriters tackle male lust, male anger, male love, male sorrow and male artsy depression in their songs, but the experience of knowing you’ve fucked up, that you fumbled the recovery and that maybe things are never going to be repaired has never been better expressed than the bridge of this song: “I wonder if the landlord has fixed the crack/That I stared at/Instead of staring back at you”. That’s a whole short story right there.
There’s a very familiar spirit to much of Samson’s writing, of male narrators explaining their romantic regrets or mistakes, but the thing that I love about them is that those stories feel small, everyday and personal. These are not epoch-ending catastrophes and the characters in these songs don’t have their lives torn apart by heartbreak, or losing a friendship, or their cat abandoning them. The stories are familiar, but the stakes are never artificially high.
In fact, rather than make the personal seem more meaningful and dramatic Samson focuses on the mundane details. The bus driver in ‘Civil Twilight’ fills his head with minutia in the wake of the end of a relationship, which he never gets to forget as every couple of hours takes him past “that house/Where you told me that you had to go”, but even then he admits that “For the most part I think about golfing… Or recite the names of provinces and Hollywood actors/Oh Ontario, oh Jennifer Jason Leigh”.
But it’s not a miserable or self-pitying song and it’s matched to some of the band’s most downright jubilant music, from the heavily treated guitars that ape the Who‘s ‘Baba O’Riley’ keys to huge Weezer power chords that underpin that last chorus: “My chance to say something/Seemed so brief but it wasn’t/Now I know I had plenty of time.”
And the thing that I’m reminded of when I hear these tiny tales is that this is what we do: ultimately, we get on with things. Sometimes those wounds never completely heal: new skin just grows over the top and there’s still a little bit of poison trapped in there that never goes away. And you know what? We can live with that. Nobody gets closure for everything. You make amends, you dust yourself down, and you pull out into the traffic again. Oh Ontario, oh Jennifer Jason Leigh.
SONG YOU SHOULD HAVE REDISCOVERED THIS TIME IN 2010: Can a song be destroyed by a fresh context? That’s the question posed by ‘Rock the Casbah’ by the Clash.
SONG YOU SHOULD HAVE REDISCOVERED THIS TIME IN 2011:No 18th, but the brief promise of Pete Yorn was celebrated by ‘For Nancy’.
AND HERE’S THE LAST FIVE…