Thursday, September 6, 2012

A Guided Tour of Ten: Black

[A Guided Tour of Ten]
Black is a great example of everyone in the band knowing when to play restrained and who to give focus to at exactly the right time. It is also one of those rare songs that understands precisely what is happening when you're left behind at the end of a powerful relationship. There isn’t anger, or clarity—just a searing, painful desire to have the person back and a fear of spending the rest of your life alone. There isn’t redemption in this song like there is at the end of Alive, nor is there release to be found in anger like in Why Go or Once. But Eddie's voice channels so much empathy that even while things are falling apart you know that you aren’t alone. There is someone with you in the black.

The song starts out with the muted introduction—it is meant to evoke a sense of age and distance, like someone putting a record on an old player and preparing to sit down and reminisce about times gone by and lost loves. There is a sense of peaceful detachment to it, which makes the moment when the music really kicks in (with Jeff's little bass riff) all the more striking. The music is rich, warm, and enveloping (and non-distinct the band does a wonderful job in this song creating soundscapes and evoking moods without ever taking center stage. I've heard Black hundreds of times and yet I would have a really difficult time humming the music), as is Eddie's voice. He certainly doesn’t sound like someone pining for a lost love, at least not yet. The first verse is wistful, and if there is a subtle undercurrent of sadness it is harmless and painless, the hurt long gone and the memories just bittersweet enough to make them interesting

The opening lyrics speak of promise and possibilities, of stories yet to be told and lives waiting to be lived—only the subtle hint of the past tense (as her body once did) gives any indication that this may never come to pass, at least until the pre-chorus, when the music gets distorted and Eddie lets a small growl enter his voice. There is a touch of bitterness, but the vocals still ring strong and confident, assessing where things stand. Even in the chorus, where the lyrics speak of total collapse (hands shaking uncontrollably, all the color and distinction in life washed out) he still sounds like he is holding everything together. There is a strength and confidence in the voice that make it clear that he is still in control. There are moments of hurt peeking through, but he has mastered them

The tension continues in the second verse—the lyrics paint a picture of a life that's lost its flavor—the bitterness and pain that he feels at seeing people around him happy when he has nothing. And the song gradually begins its descent into total breakdown. The vocals lose a great deal of their confidence, if not their power. The growl is much more prominent and there is a ragged edge to it that wasn’t there before, and the music picks up its urgency to match it. He is still in control, but he's losing it, and he lets us know. It isn’t just the pictures and the memories lost to the darkness—that darkness is growing, encapsulating not only the past but his present and future possibilities. Everything is gone—all he has left is the void.

The final declaration is heart breaking—his love has moved on to other things. She is somewhere else, living her life and lighting someone else's sky while he is trapped here, howling in the darkness for her to come back, begging for someone to tell him what he did wrong, knowing he isn’t going to get an answer and that without any light he will never find a way out. The vocals here are absolutely perfect—in particular the way he sings ‘why’ the first two times—the slight quaver, the way he probes around the edges, and the way it is drenched in both weary sadness and intensity, quiet and powerful. Next time you listen to the song really focus on what he does with that word. It is amazing.

And the song ends with his exhausted, wordless howls, indistinct screaming guitars and the bitterly sad melody. No one moment is given center stage (neither the solo nor eddie's vocals nor the backing music) since there is no light to give anything perspective or clarity. It is the sound of a life utterly collapsing, chronicling his descent into the black.

Even Flow 
Why Go 

No Code 
Riot Act 
Pearl Jam