Educating Peter # 7

August 5, 2012

This week Michael has sent me a song called “Hemingway” by Blue Clocks Green. It’s a song from 1988 that I’ve never heard before. I’ve never even heard of the band before, either – so this will be a novel experience. (Oops. Sorry about that entirely unintentional pun.)

Michael gave me a bit of information about the little beastie:

“Hemingway” was a minor hit but received airplay on over 150 college and alternative radio stations throughout the US. Additionally, the song became a hit with the dance crowd at several alternative clubs throughout the US. But due to the graphic lyrics…

Just like Hemingway
He showed me anyway
You can be a hero, all you have to know is what to say
And if I want to die just like Hemingway
I’ll put a pistol in my mouth and blow my head away

…the song was banned by many stations and college radio administrators, which ironically established and solidified its underground cult status.

The song was banned, eh? With those remarkably distasteful lyrics, I’m not surprised.

I’m afraid those lyrics have instantly not endeared me to either the song or the band. (Note to band: What were you thinking?)

But I’ll try to be as impartial as I can (despite having a huge bias against the music of the 80s – and now, that song in particular).

OK. Away we go…

Blue Clocks Green – “Hemingway” (1989)

Link

Intro

0:00-0:15 Oh yuck. This intro isn’t helping me like the song at all. This is horrible. It’s nothing but synthesizer music played with a slow drum beat, and the drums sound like a synthesizer as well. (Probably a drum machine.) Oh yuck.

0:15-0:31 Oh no. This is even more horrible. The non-realistic drums have just gone into a double-time beat, but all those synthetic sounds have been joined by a guitar. Ordinarily at this juncture I’d shout “Hooray! A real musical instrument!”, but that guitar sounds exactly like a MIDI guitar. It sounds like the “Nylon String Guitar” setting on my old Roland MIDI sound card. Michael, what are you doing? Why did you send me this song? Why?

Peter’s First Sound Card

Before I get to the next part of the track, I’d like to point out that I think this song (so far) is woefully stereotypical, generic synth-pop. Ugh.

Verse

0:31-0:48 The vocalist has started singing, and I’m afraid that it hasn’t made things any better for me. Just between you and me, I think those those vocals are abysmal. His voice is… it’s… ah… I can’t really describe it accurately. I can say that the voice is monotonal (i.e., no colour or brightness), and the owner of that voice uses it to sings flat all over the place. (Curiously enough, when he sings the last syllable of the word “concentration” at 0:45, it’s painfully sharp. I actually winced when I heard it.) There’s a horrid little drum fill at 0:47 (just after “concentration”) that makes those drums sound even more like a drum machine than they did up until then. And I didn’t think that was possible.

Michael, I just have to ask this question again: Why?

Chorus

0:38-1:17 Until this point, I couldn’t imagine this song getting worse. But it got worse. In the left channel is a synthesizer sound that instantly reminded me of a melodica. This is what a melodica looks like:

And this is what a melodica sounds like:

I think the chorus of “Hemingway” is mildly catchy. I found myself humming along with it in no time – but those lyrics… [Shudder] And what makes those lyrics even more nauseating is the horribly cheery female backing vocals appearing in the second-half of the chorus (from 1:02 to 1:17).

Return Of The Intro

1:17-1:33 As soon as the vocals in the chorus finish we’re dropped straight back into the intro again with that ghastly MIDI guitar. One thing I found irritating about the MIDI guitar part here (apart from it sounding like a MIDI guitar) is something it does with the phrase at the end of its eight bars (at 1:30) – it repeats its last phrase. I don’t know why, but that irritated me. (It’s like someone saying, “I went to the shops the other day. Day.”) And so did the drum-machine fill straight after the repeated MIDI guitar phrase leading into the next verse. That was irritating, too.

Verse

1:33-1:50 Michael, are you sure this song isn’t a parody of synth-pop?

I’ve just noticed the singing in this verse isn’t as bad as it was in the first verse. And that’s about as close to a compliment as I’m going to get for this song.

Now that the beat is well and truly drummed (awful pun fully intended) into my head, it’s reminding me of… well, it’s reminding me of every synth-pop song I’ve ever heard.

Chorus

1:50-2:19 The background vocals (the ultra-cheery female voice) are in full swing here, harmonising the whole chorus instead of the second-half the first time around. (I have a feeling the last part of the previous sentence made no sense whatsoever.) The only problem with the background vocalist is that quite a lot of her notes are slightly sharp (“You can be a hero…” and “…in my mouth…” for example) – not a lot, but just enough to annoy me.

Pointless Instrumental Repeat Of The Chorus

2:19-2:34 Pointless.

Repeat Of The Introduction (Without Drum Machine)

2:34-2:48 I’m glad the drum machine wasn’t here. (It’s one less electronic instrument to listen to.)

Repeat Of The Part Of The Introduction With The MIDI Guitar

2:48-3:05 Oh no: that MIDI guitar returned.

I’m getting the impression that these instrumental bits are here only to pad out the song. (Band Member 1: “Aaargh! The song only goes two-and-a-half minutes. What can we do?” Band Member 2: “I know – let’s repeat the intro.”)

Chorus

3:05-4:03 The vocals – both main and background – are better than at any other time in the song, which makes things more tolerable.

But something odd happens at 3:34: a third singer joins the two vocalists. It’s a male voice, and it’s probably the main singer backing himself. The odd thing about this for me is that I noticed the third singer in an unusual place: later in the chorus (at 3:38), where they all sing “…hero, all you have to know is what to say…”. I hadn’t noticed the singer up until then, but I went back to the 3:34 and heard him there, hiding in the mix. I know that mentioning this is extremely trivial, but Michael is taking the trouble to educate me, and I feel it only fair that I take the trouble to pay attention to what’s in the songs he sends me.

The (Non-)Dramatic End To The Song

4:03 The end of the song is supposed to be a single hit of the drums followed by synthesizers fading out, but as far as as drum crashes go that was pretty limp.

Final Thoughts

I’m glad that’s over with.

(And the song was only four minutes long. At least it wasn’t six-and-a-half minutes like last week’s effort.)

One overriding thought I had whilst listening to the song was that everything about it was amateurish. Although I usually applaud an amateur who is enthusiastic about what they’re doing (I’d much rather hear an enthusiastic amateur than a bored professional), that’s not quite what I mean here. When I say “amateur” here I don’t mean “having a red hot go” – I mean “not very well done”, and “not up to any kind of standard that I enjoy”.

Oh, and Ernest Hemingway didn’t kill himself with a pistol. He used a shotgun.

And they actually printed the lyrics on the sleeve. Ewww.
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