Sunday, December 15, 2013

Songs #444 & 445 - A Special Two-Headed Sunday!

Song #444 of 9999                                   Song #445 of 9999

Title: Foolish Love                                     Title: Two-Headed Boy/Fool
Artist: Rufus Wainwright                           Artist: Neutral Milk Hotel
Year: 1998                                                  Year: 1998
Rufus Wainwright                         Album: In the Aeroplane Over the Sea


Developed a case of lethargy and took a couple of unscheduled days off so I thought I'd come back strong with songs from two of my favorite albums from 1998. 

I could say you would be hard-pressed to find two artists more different than Rufus Wainwright and Neutral Milk Hotel and many people would agree, but of course, that's a gross overstatement—I suppose they're both considered "indie rock." But if we limit our thinking to that rather broad (or narrow, depending on your perspective) spectrum, they are quite different on the surface. One is practically a sequined crooner while the other is a proverbial "diamond in the rough." But I propose they have more in common than first meets the ear.

First, and perhaps most significantly, both artists have a penchant for the grandiose. "Foolish Love," as lush and operatic as it is, is likely not even the most majestic song on Wainwright's debut, let alone his catalog. The Schubertian piano, theater organ, lush strings—Freddie Mercury would feel right at home in this musical suit. "Two-Headed Boy" from In the Aeroplane Over the Sea expresses its grandness in other ways but is no less imposing a force. Listening to the acoustic guitar played in stadium rock style, you'd think someone forgot to unmute the rest of the band while mixing the track. Jeff Mangum's vocal performance is so huge it can't be contained by the recording, clipping unapologetically during the chorus.

The second parallel between the two artists is their shared interest in nostalgia. "Two-Headed Boy" transitions immediately into "Fool," a waltz that takes advantage of variety of winds and percussion to render something like the sound of a turn of the (20th) century New Orleans funeral procession. "Foolish Love" sounds like Tin Pan Alley even before the 2:00 mark when old-timey chords and colors (saloon piano, accordion and strings) wrest control of the song.

Finally, it's worth noting the similarities in tone color between Wainwright's and Mangum's voices. They use their voices in almost completely different ways—Wainwright the cabaret singer and Mangum the emotional folkie. But they both sing way up in their heads in what can affectionately be called a "nasal sound." This is the least significant commonality (I hate to use the word similarity—its more interesting to think these two artists can take common concepts and still be so dissimilar) but certainly one of note. Whether you love or hate them both or hate one and love the other, I think you must admit Rufus Wainwright and Neutral Milk Hotel have more in common than you thought!

See you tomorrow in 2008. 

1 comment:

  1. I have nothing to add except to say this is a great post. So I will add that.