21 Jan 11 | Re: Interminable dirge
Whether or not Paul Gambaccini is right about rock music now being relegated to the same level as hobbyist-only musical fossils like jazz and classical, there’s no denying that there ain’t much of it in the chart these days. So it seems to me an apt moment to introduce a new regular feature on the blog, recognising a musical tradition that in many ways embodies the difference between rock and pop: the wig-out.
Pop songs want to be three and a half minutes long, maybe four. Pop deals in songs, not albums. Pop is all about catchy little melodies and lyrics that are immediately relatable, but not too deep. Pop makes its musicians work in support of the singer. And pop wants to be popular. That’s pop.
The wig-out says pshaaaaw! to all of that.
The wig-out is the album track that you aren’t expecting. It usually turns up towards the end of a rock album, and once it has turned up, it doesn’t leave until every member of the band has beat the living soul out of both the song itself and you, the listener. The wig-out is never a single. If you don’t buy albums, you probably don’t even know they exist. But we album listeners can sometimes grow to love those long stretches of jamming, clattering and yelling that go into a really classic wig-out. For my first Weekend Wig-Out I have taken care to choose a song that has all the ingredients of a classic wig-out, so without further ado it’s time to introduce...
Rie’s Wagon by Gomez (Listen here as you read)
This exemplary wig-out is taken from the album Bring It On, on which it is the second-to-last track: a prime wig-out spot. Even better, the track that follows is just a little throwaway instrumental to break the tension caused by this nine-minute monster. Should one attempt to use this song as background music, the abiding impression one will receive is of loud droning. There are over 25 seconds of droning at the beginning before any discernible instrument can be heard, and there’s over a minute of droning racket before the vocal starts.
The lyrics aren’t about anything much. The verses are about going to visit the medicine man, and the chorus is about getting run over and/or driven home by or in the car belonging to someone called Rie. In reality, these are just a nod to the concept of an actual song, a framework on which to hang the real point of the track, which is to make some seriously meandering bluesy noise. Apart from the drone, the main instrument is a wailing, feeding back guitar; this is joined about a third of the way through by what sound like noises of jungle wildlife, and occasionally by bursts of frantic three-note harmonica.
What else? Well, the drummer bashes around in classic wig-out style, his fills becoming ever more outlandish as the track grinds on. The central instrumental has a couple of periods where it arbitrarily speeds up, in one case going a bit reggae for thirty seconds. There’s a bit five minutes in where all semblance of rhythm collapses into pure noise, followed by a very quiet bit before the drone starts back up. It takes over six minutes to get to the second verse. At the end, the last twenty seconds are filled with wholly superfluous whooshing noises, which seem to exist only to take the wig-out past the nine minute mark.
What’s happening after three and a half minutes, when most pop hits are finishing? We’ve had one verse and chorus, and the harmonica has just dropped in for the first time. Roughly five minutes of drone are still to come.
Time to rate this wig-out:
Total wig-out points: 27
That’s a strong score, but how will it rank among the other great wig-outs of our time? Check back in future weeks to find out.
Posted by THE ILL SHOPKEEPER at 20:48