May 9th, 2016 had me sweating for a number of reasons. My broken air conditioner spewed hot air, I blatantly understudied for my incoming finals, and I was listening to Radiohead
's Moon Shaped Pool
which had sneakily dropped the night before. The premature, low nineties temperature didn't help.
Everything about Moon
immediately landed for me. It's eerie, from the distorted short introduction on "Daydreaming" to the UFO linked lyrics on "Deck's Dark". If you're a Radiohead fan, you at least like Moon
, but what had upgraded me from like to love was its closing track.
"True Love Waits" dates back to at least 1995, over twenty years before its official release in 2016. The tune establishes a comfortable sense of insecurity. Loose piano arpeggios struck an emotional chord somewhere in my gut, had me squirming in my navy blue bed and slightly cracked. The context and choice of Radiohead giving "True Love Waits" an official publication is overwhelming. Thom Yorke's partner of 25 years passed away due to cancer, and the concept of "waiting" sucker punched me in the ears. Most Radiohead fans and I feel like we're on a first name basis with Thom, and as he squawked out "I'm not living / I'm just killing time", he simultaneously plucked every listener and dropped them into a blender. It's just Thom, his keyboard, and yourself. I think this feeling is a mutual one for all fans.
I praised Radiohead for their Moon
project, and I still do today, but several months later I began to question the "genius" behind "True Love Waits." It's a relatively simple song, a hint of syncopation, but, theory wise, nothing noteworthy. A five minute straight-shooter with an emotional tow suddenly became a favorite tune of mine. The song concluded over forty-five minutes of, as music critic Anthony Fantano labeled it, a Radiohead album that was "easy on the ears, but very heavy on the heart." But is concluding an album with a song like "True Love Waits", a single instrument and vocalist, a cheap-shot for listener's ears? This style of closing track is in play more than we think, and ultimately I think it's being used as a commodity: a simplistic song tied with an emotional connection to close an album, resulting in both popular and critical success.
Let's observe some of the many successful albums that use the "closing track", a song that ends the album with one instrument, a vocalist, and what seems to pack some weighty emotion sonically, lyrically, or both. I know some of these tracks feature more than just one instrument, but what I'm discussing is one instrument that backbones the track. Garnishing glockenspiels don't count. Also, these are albums that I love and have a very special place in my heart, and there are countless of other artists that use a stripped down closing track, such as Oasis, The Replacements, and The Smiths
"Reservations" - Yankee Hotel Foxtrot - Wilco
"I've got reservations, and they're not about you," repeats Jeff Tweedy at the end of the Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
, an album that dominated the early 00's and is still recognized as Wilco
's best work to date. Of course this song is decorated with a number of instruments, but the piano pilots the piece. The strings and percussion simply double the piano's progression, and Tweedy's condescending and processed vocals split the audience.
"Two Headed Boy Pt. 2" - In the Aeroplane Over the Sea - Neutral Milk Hotel
Every hipster's dream comes true at the falling action of Aeroplane
. Though a good fraction of the album is Jeff Mangum solos, the closing track to the stigmatized nineties album saddens ears with melodic allusions to the earlier "Two Headed Boy" and touches listeners with Mangum's squeaking chair as he "gets up to leave." Omit the saw introduction, and Mangum's pretty voice and equally pretty guitar occupy the room.
"This Is Not What You Had Planned" - The Meadowlands - The Wrens
"This is not what you had planned" is twice and concisely stated to conclude The Meadowlands
, an album filled with divorce, depression, and envy. Listen for Charles Bissell's screams during the second verse of this terse closing track.
"Butterfly" - Pinkerton - Weezer
delicately gained a cult following over the twenty years since its release. The album takes its theme from Giacomo Puccini's Madama Butterfly
Italian opera, premiered in 1904. As cliche as it sounds, the opera discusses the search for love and marriage, which Rivers Cuomo and the rest of Weezer
parallel with young adult angst and a college setting. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry", Cuomo confesses as he tries to eliminate someone's false hope.
"00000 Million" - 22, A Million - Bon Iver
Aside from slight percussion and processed instrumentation/vocals, this song, for me, likely takes the most advantage of the power behind an acoustic closing track. After an album filled with Bon Iver
's most thrilling arrangements yet, Justin Vernon sits down with a piano to admit his sensitivity ("Well it harms, it harms me"). The change in dynamics and timbre strikes a heavy blow to most.
"Motion Picture Soundtrack" - Kid A - Radiohead
Radiohead actually fell guilty to the emotional closing track tactic sixteen years before A Moon Shaped Pool
was released. The closer of Kid A
has Thom Yorke and a thick church organ contemplating life ("I will see you in the next life"). The delayed bass adds another layer to the organ, and the harp is absurdly unnecessary, soundtracking an ascent to heaven. At the end of the day, it's a 4/4 song with six chords, incredibly simple compared to the groundbreaking music that the rest of the album is hailed for.
"The Apollo Programme Was A Hoax" - The Shape Of Punk To Come - Refused
I'm not quite sure if this track qualifies verbatim for the list as the previously listed songs, but because it contrasts so vastly to the rest of the Swedish hardcore album, it's worth mentioning. The double bass holds the track together, but the plucked guitar chords and accordion add color to an acoustic conclusion of a punk record. I don't think "Apollo" defines the album the way "True Love Waits" or "Two Headed Boy Pt. 2" do to their conceptual hosts, but it surely earns extra points for a critical audience.
"Poledo" - You're Living All Over Me - Dinosaur Jr.
After a half hour mixture of indie and noise rock, "Poledo" strips down Dinosaur Jr
. to a destructive ukulele set. The rushing pace of the first half of the track and oddly timed ballad of the second half is separated by a cocktail of white noise screams. It's incredibly eerie, but the album itself gave significant influences to legendary bands such as My Bloody Valentine