Tuesday, January 13, 2009

This Song is like that Song (Part II)

Moving right along here’s another pair of songs that share an odd connection…

Song #1: The Postal Service’s “Nothing Better”

The Postal Service is an electronic indie pop duo comprised of Ben Gibbard from Death Cab for Cutie and Jimmy Tamborello. Their name comes from the way the two collaborated on songs long distance, sending their work back and forth via the good ole US mail. Give Up, the Postal Service’s 2003 debut album, achieved a huge amount of success, but since then we’ve heard nothing from the duo.

In June 2007 there was news they were starting work on a second album, but since then Gibbard has said that the Postal Service is just a side project for the partners who have other priorities and that we shouldn’t hold our breath for another album this decade. In the meantime, Death Cab for Cutie has inarguably received a huge boost from the Postal Service’s mainstream popularity.

So pretty much every song off Give Up is great, but let’s focus now on “Nothing Better” which is a duet between Ben Gibbard and Jenny Lewis. The song starts out with a verse in which a guy is confronting his girlfriend who's leaving him: he "can't accept that it's over" and he offers to do whatever it takes to win her back. His pleas reach their (figurative) crescendo (because, let's face it, Gibbard really never changes the tone or volume of his voice in any song ever) in the chorus where he sings

Tell me, am I right to think that there could be nothing better
Than making you my bride and slowly growing old together?

Then the girl starts her verse

I feel I must interject here, you're getting carried away feeling sorry for yourself
With these revisions and gaps in history

She’s basically like “do I have to remind you why I’m leaving?” and she tells him he needs to let her go and move on. It’s difficult not too quote more of the lyrics because they’re so good; plus, this is the only song I can think of that works in the word “sutures.” The female part of the duet is my favorite, and it turns what would otherwise be a pretty maudlin break-up song into something much more interesting with its sarcasm and no-nonsense frankness.

There’s no video for this one but you can listen to the song infra.

Nothing Better (Album) - Postal Service

Song #2: The Human League’s “Don’t You Want Me”

I must give Nicole credit for pointing out the only other duet I known which features this sort of he-said-she-said relationship postmortem: the ‘80s hit “Don’t You Want Me” by the Human League. The Human League were an English synthpop group – I want to say they were New Wave, whatever that means, but maybe they were too commercial/pop for that label? Their frontman Phillip Oakley actually hated the final version of this song which had been remixed by Jo Callis at the request of their producer at Virgin Records: Oakley thought it was too poppy and by far the weakest track off their album Dare (1981). It’s ironic then that “Don’t You Want Me” went on to be by far their biggest international hit.

The song begins, again, with the guy telling us his side of the story: how his ex was – famously – “working as a waitress in a cocktail bar” when he met her. He turned her into a star, and now that she has fame and fortune she refuses to admit him when he comes by to see her. In his desperation, he hurls threats (“…it’s me who put you where you are now/ and I can put you back down too”) before settling on the chorus’ more plaintive “Don’t you want me, baby?”

The female part of the duet starts on the same “Ok, ok, wait a minute, I’ve let you say your piece, but I have to stop you right there…” note when Susanne Sulley sings

I was working as a waitress in a cocktail bar
That much is true
But even then I knew I’d find a much better place
Either with or without you
So, to break it down, she’s like “I’ll give you that I was working in a cocktail bar, but I knew I was going places even before I met your punk ass.” She goes on to say that she enjoyed there time together and that she even still loves him, but she figures its time she “lived her life on her own.” It’s not explicit, but I get the impression that the guy was a controlling, Professor Higgins kind of figure in her life, and now she needs to distance herself from that in order to regain her independence. Oakley said that he was originally inspired by the (oft remade) movie A Star is Born when he was writing the song and that it is about “sexual power politics.”

Here’s the classic video:


Let me know if you can think of any other duets like this.


nola32 said...

ok- so i totally want a shout-outs on a number of points here...
firstly, i am totally the one who told you that that's why they're called 'postal service'. i know you won't deny it.
secondly, i know that you did say that i get props for turning to you when we were in my car that day and saying, 'what about how this song is just like the 'i was working as a waitress in a cocktail bar' song?' but i would like further props because this whole post (including the mention of how this is the best use of the word 'suture' in a song) is really based on long conversations that we've had about this song, this song's relationship to the other one, how we both love the 'he said, she said' duet/battle and about how we both love 'postal service' in general and that 'death cab' is so much more popular now on the back of 'postal service'.
oh yeah, it all came from cracky convos you've had with me.
we both know the truth, meeg!!!

Meeg said...

That is all true.

Remember our discussion about how we'd like to do a live performance of "nothing better" and how I wanted us to both turn and face the audience at the "Oh, oh" part (to which you responded "what are we ABBA?")