Tuesday, June 29, 2010

13. Cracker vs. Massive Attack vs. R.E.M.

vs. vs.
"Euro-trash Girl"
by Cracker
from Kerosene Hat
by R.E.M.
from New Adventures in Hi-Fi
by Massive Attack
from Mezzanine

"Euro-trash Girl" (4 plays at Last.fm, unranked): In my mid-90s college days I bought a used copy of Kerosene Hat, mostly on the strength of "Low," but also after hearing this song on my school's radio station. To my horror, the copy I bought was the version distributed by BMG, which didn't contain any of the hidden tracks, including this gem. As a result I always considered this like a lost track or a rare b-side or something, which only added to its epic nature. It's probably the least gratuitous eight-minute song in the history of rock, and the subtle way it builds to its climax is stupendous. There's also something about it that sort of epitomizes its era of college rock, in a way that validates a lot of music that, 15-20 years later, doesn't get the kind of respect it deserves.

"Leave" (4 plays, unranked): And then you have R.E.M.'s most gratuitous song (most gratuitous good song, at least). The original version of this track includes a sweet little introductory dirge, while the main body features six straight minutes of knob-twisting by Scott McCaughey, which would certainly have been looped by a lesser band. The song is the peak of the band's music and ambition in the Monster/New Adventures period, which makes it such a disappointment that they've largely abandoned it for a shorter, thinner, quieter version that originally appeared on the soundtrack to "A Life Less Ordinary." It also makes for a great, though unintended, dénouement for the band's original line-up, and a high point that they have yet to reach again since.

"Teardrop" (1 play, unranked): Often when a song I love appears repeatedly on TV I'm done with it, but this track acting on the theme to House hasn't dampened my appreciation for it. If anything, it's a frequent reminder that I'd really like to listen to the full version, with vocals. Massive Attack is an atmosphere band working in an atmosphere genre, but this track -- perhaps on the back of its wooden beat and sparse piano chords -- takes it a step further. I'm writing this entry on a dark plane between Tokyo and Singapore, and it's taking all my effort not to simply declare this one the winner of the whole tournament and be done with it.

VERDICT: I think I can be objective enough to factor out my surroundings and gauge my typical standing enthusiasm for "Teardrop" a little lower. And in the battle of lengthy, era-defining songs, I have to give the edge to the era that's stuck with me a bit more. 1996 might be my favorite year of music ever, and "Leave" was a big part of that.

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