Front page


Weekend wig-out: Fireworks

6 Nov 11 | Re: Very long song

Finally, I am getting round to writing about my tenth and final wig-out. And what better weekend to wig out with this particular piece than Guy Fawkes’ weekend, the home of all things dark, burning and spectacular. This song contains its own needlessly long build-up, so there’s no reason not to go right ahead and bring you...

Jesus I/Mary Star Of The Sea by Zwan     Listen here!

This double-whammy of a wig-out is, as the title hints, in two parts. First comes a hymn addressed to Jesus, backed by a chiming, hypnotic guitar figure. It’s actually credited to “Trad”, so it may be a traditional spiritual, though not a very well-known one. The flipside, or part two, of the song is less measured, more dreamy, and more dewy-eyed than overtly religious, but more of that later.

The song starts with the guitar figure; no bass, no drums. Pretty soon, Billy Corgan’s vocals come in, and it’s worth noting that his characteristically nasal delivery gives the religious lyric a certain ambiguity. In fact the album from which the song is taken uses a lot of Christian imagery, but it always keeps the listener guessing as to how far Corgan subscribes to the faith associated with it. It could be anywhere between 0% and 100%, since even when at his most emotional he seems guarded. Here, that confusion is very much in play, and it gives the apparently direct lyric a fascinating inscrutability.

As Billy sings to the Lord, the band slowly starts to join in. By the second verse, there are occasional bits of bass. A couple of minutes in, drums and some layered guitars are added. Soon after that, the rock begins to build in earnest, as the lyrical fervour also reaches its climax: “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, reborn, reborn reborn...” and I wonder whether it’s too much of a stretch to suggest that the complex instrumental passages that follow might represent the singer’s personal rebirth.

As the band’s three guitarists turn their instruments up, we have some good soloing, some strangled widdling, and some nice guttural wah-ing. The drums begin to clatter as well; nearly at four minutes, the band lurch into a frenzy, but then peg themselves back. The drums go half-speed, knocking the tension up a level. Gradually, the soloing starts to lose structure. Some time around five minutes, a new chiming figure appears underneath everything else, and then, well, it all drops out.

All of a sudden, the distorted interplay is replaced by a chiming, almost bucolic guitar figure, with nothing underneath it. This is the start of a pretty, quiet segment that links the song’s two parts. The guitars come back, but in a very subdued, unhurried way, as if exploring each other and enjoying the companionship. Over the course of a couple of minutes, the tempo slows. Then the drums start up, adding drive if not exactly urgency. Inch by inch, though, the rock returns.

As guitar lines lead into the long-awaited return of actual singing, we hear how the song has, over the course of five minutes or so, become reborn. Gone is the rigid devotion of the earlier part, and in its place comes a soulful poetry whose central image is “Everything just feels like rain”. It’s dreamy, but it’s still heavy. The band takes a few exuberant minutes to share the singer’s joy in finding peace with the universe, until the song finally ends on a bold, fuzzing chord.

The whole Zwan album was a masterclass in marrying heavy rock sounds to a sensitivity of lyric and feeling, and this song takes almost a quarter of an hour to explain, meticulously, just how that works. It starts by showing the undeniable power of naked religious imagery, and then takes it into complexity, back through simplicity, and out the other side as something both more personal and more universal. It’s a journey of the spirit. I could go on trying to explain it, but I feel like I’m not doing a great job... perhaps you should just read Dante instead. Or listen to Zwan for yourself.

What’s going on after three and a half minutes, when the pop producer knocks off for the afternoon? A bit of widdly guitar happens to be going on, but the moment is utterly unmarked and all the best bits are still to come. You can’t say what this song says in three minutes.

Time to rate this wig-out!

Total wig-out points: 26

Wow. I thought that was going to be the wigginest wig-out of all, but it turns out to have just been pipped by Gomez and Cornershop all those months ago.

I’ve finished writing about these now, but be sure to tune in soon for a link to a playlist that will knock your socks of and, indeed, flip your wig. Until then, please do keep on wigging.

Posted by KAVANAGH QC at 22:04

[Back to main blog]

[Or dive into the blarchive...]

Take me home