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Monday Music: Love as divine mission

8 Mar 10 | Re: Dantean alt-rock

I have to be cautious here, because this week’s track comes from an album that I consider to be one of the crowning achievements of western civilisation. How easy it would be easy to slip into hyperbole when trying to write intelligently about Honestly by Zwan.

We7 only has a 30 second preview of the song, but the full video is on Youtube. It’s a dreamy love song in quite a hard rock style - a combination that I think only Ash have put together as successfully. While most rock acts (Bon Jovi and people) tend to soften their musical approach when they want to get romantic, it’s often more effective to match borderline-drippy lyrics to loud, powerful music - it stops the song from getting sentimental and makes love feel like an energising force rather than a cause of indecision and paralysis.

If you go deeper into the album (Mary Star of the Sea), that idea of love as a call to action is developed a lot more, as what on its own is a straightforward, disarmingly naive statement of affection becomes a lot deeper when taken in the lyrical context of the songs around it. There is a lot of religion in it. It’s unclear whether Billy Corgan is writing about personal beliefs or adopting the vocabulary of religion for effect, but he certainly explores theology, and specifically the relationship between divine and romantic love, in a very sophisticated way. Among other themes, several of the songs allude to romantic love as a gift so precious that it would actually be immoral to waste it: this is love as a mission from God, where the lover has a chance to create something so good that it becomes both an irresistible motivation and a fearsomely daunting prospect. In this respect it reminds me a lot of Dante - not the sinners-boiling-in-tar Dante of the Inferno, but the Dante of the whole Divine Comedy whose love for Beatrice has set him above other men and brought him the task and privilege of seeing Heaven and bringing its light down to earth for the enrichment of mankind (but not before going through his own very personal Purgatory).

Certainly self-mythologising comes as naturally to Corgan as it did to Dante. He (Corgan) also explored a fearsome kind of love with the Smashing Pumpkins - I’m thinking of Ava Adore here, where the protagonist’s desire is so strong it becomes menacing. But with Zwan he used the power of love for good instead of evil; to my mind, that makes for a better album.

If you’re looking for evidence of the above in the song Honestly, try the searching questions at the end of each verse. He asks ‘Is it ours to let go?’ That’s what I mean about love as a mission: you can’t refuse it because it’s a responsibility as well as a gift, even if that also makes it a burden. The earlier question ‘Is it true? Do I care?’ adds another layer of complexity, since the important fact stops being love as an actual according-to-Hoyle miracle, and starts being the lover’s sincere belief that God has got involved. If you feel it, you have to act on it, and if you act on it (honestly), it becomes real.

So there you have it: Mr Corgan, Pulp Fiction and Dante’s Paradiso synthesised into a single, hopefully coherent philosophy, with excellent drumming. If this sounds like something you’d want, you can buy it from Amazon for less than a tenner.

Posted by WHITE GOODMAN at 19:44

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