Wednesday, April 13, 2011

A Guided Tour of Vs.: Animal


Animal and Go are sister songs, two sides of the same coin. There is probably no 1-2 combo in the catalog that connect in quite the same way that these do. Go is slightly more ferocious, while Animal is, in a curious way, somehow more melodic and gentle despite its aggression and anger. As befitting the title, the music practically growls at the listener, with the songs empty spaces and hanging notes giving the listener a chance to catch their breath, only to be attacked again (fitting given the rape overtones in the lyrics). It makes the song as relentless as Go even with its shifting moods.

Though the song is riddled with pauses there is no real reflection in Animal—Animal (like go) is an open wound too raw to heal. The questions it asks are practically howled ‘why would you want to hurt me? So frightened of your pain?’ but the song immediately retreats back into the doubled over, clenched hurt of the song. In a scary way, there is almost a sense of relief in that retreat. There is a wry, sardonic, almost dismissive tone that flits in and out of the main vocal where the subject almost seems to welcome the pain. It’s a drug, and they’re seeking it out even as they resent the need for it.

Where Go is a song about an abuser, Animal is a song about being abused, and it is easy to read rape into the song’s vague lyrical themes of assault and violation. Like Rats, the song claims that the worst excesses in human nature, the things we do to each other to escape from ourselves make us less than human, worse than animals—something more akin to a monster. Like Go Eddie’s vocal performance is surprisingly nuanced for such a (superficially) thematically simple song. We have the same compelling mixture of anger and desperation, but it’s mixed with undertones of judgment (not surprising, given the subject matter—and Mike’s soloing in this song sounds accusatory), even pity for attackers—for the loss of humanity that drives them to do what they do.

That may be the most interesting thing about the Go/Animal combination. We have a song about abusing and being abused, each largely devoid of context and substance (Go more than Animal). What matters in each song is the intensity of the experience. But the experiential difference between the two songs breaks down. It’s almost like there is no difference between being the aggressor and the victim. In either case you have a person whose life becomes defined by a sense of violation and betrayal, no matter which side of the exchange they are on. In neither case can the people involved see past the way the experience. It cuts them off, leaves them lost and diminished and unable to imagine life any other way. Thomas Jefferson once argued that slavery was just as devastating to whites as it was to blacks. The cost to blacks was obvious, but the damage being a master did to the characters of whites was just as harmful. Bracketing whether or not that’s actually the case there are still elements of that observation in these first two songs. These two songs might be about the same event, or even the same person. The difference between the two collapses into itself and we’re left with the realization that we’re trapped in a world frightened of its own pain, one that lashes out in violence rather than confront and contest the cause. It is just easier, and we risk less by killing off the part of us that wants more. Vs. is an inarticulate howl of protest against that all too human tendency to retreat, or revel in, everything that’s wrong. Despite the surface social critiques on the record, this record does not chronicle an individual’s war with society. Instead it is about our war with ourselves.

So Go and Animal set up the damaged emotional space that fills the first 2/3rds of the record. Going forward Vs. tries to diagnose our ills, or failing that at least find a more concrete target—someone or something we can blame— but every one of the songs running from Daughter through Blood (the missequenced Rats as well) starts from this same place. There is no real reflection in any of these songs—just the same heady combination of anger, frustration, judgment, and reactionary pain. 

Glorified G
Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town