#31songs (6): Best bass
‘Spitting Out Miracles’, by The Blue Aeroplanes
Spitting Out Miracles (the album) is the one where it all comes together for The Blue Aeroplanes. It didn’t have the commercial success of its successor, Swagger, in part because the songs and the production don’t have the commercial-minded clarity of Swagger, and in part, no doubt, because Fire Records didn’t have the commercial muscle to promote it. Miracles has its roots in folk and folk-rock, where Swagger is much more indie rock in its sound, and that, commercially speaking, might have been a point against it. I heard Swagger first, and loved it immediately; when I came to Miracles later I liked it, but it took longer to sink its roots. Perhaps because it was a longer, slower process, it now feels like the one that touches me more deeply.
There’s a force to the production and the arrangements that the previous two albums achieved only intermittently; and on this album the band can achieve that force even on songs that don’t use the conventional structures of verse and chorus. True, the album begins with what sound like the familiar spindly guitar sounds from its predecessors, in the first ten seconds of ‘Coats’; but then Gerard comes in very assertively (‘Note this down!’) along with drums and bass, and we’re in different territory.
‘Spitting Out Miracles’ likewise opens with a solitary guitar line, though its sound is a little thicker than on ‘Coats’ (chorus pedal, I guess); but after the guitar has played its phrase the whole band comes in, enriched particularly by Nigel Eaton’s hurdy gurdy line. The drums deliver an uncomplicated and assertive beat, and that’s fine: there’s plenty else going on. Richard Bell has written that the producer Charlie Llewelyn insisted that the band recorded without click tracks, so tempos shift within songs naturally and, as Bell puts it, the performances are allowed to breathe (*). Bell notes a couple of places where the tempo seems to shift too much to his taste, and ‘Spitting Out Miracles’ is one of them. But I like that feature: along with the wheeziness of the hurdy-gurdy there’s a wooziness to the pace which suggests that the song is slightly unsteady on its legs. That’s appropriate: there’s a lot drinking on this album; whisky, tequila, and a beer courtesy of Kenneth Patchen; drinking up each other in the guise of going out.
The beauty of Ruth Cochrane’s bass line is hard to convey, but the essence of it lies in the alternation (for much of the song, though not all) between one bar playing basic low notes and the next playing a higher line, rhythmically and harmonically more complicated. The one bar anchors the song and contributes to its emphatic quality, the other joins in with the guitars and the hurdy-gurdy in the song’s joyful running up and down the scales. I think she’s playing some chords in there as well. It’s not too prominent in the mix, but without it the song would lack much of its force and energy.
The lyric is about the end of a relationship: unusually, for a love lyric, the narrator is the one who wants to end it, and the addressee needs to be persuaded of it. Hence the brutality of the opening lines: ‘there’s no more and that’s a fact’. It could be, in view of the whisky and cigarettes, that they’re out of booze, but more likely they’re out of things to say to each other and things to do together. (The same imperative tone turns up later, though gentler: ‘Treat it as a good thing, / just remember that it’s gone.’) The relationship has become scripted along predictable lines: it’s an act; they can recall the lines as if it were scripted, complete with the awkward pauses. Or perhaps the scriptedness is a sign of the narrator’s detachment from the situation. It’s also a song about the Lawrentian dilemma (as in Sons and Lovers and The Rainbow) of trying to maintain boundaries to one’s identity while also finding oneself completely involved with the other person. ‘I’ve seen you dressed in armour, / I’ve seen you get undressed.’ What love is all about, he concludes cynically, is drinking up each other.
Get it into your head.
There’s no more and that’s a fact.
We’re trying to engage,
in other pursuits, wilder moments
and better versions of the act.
I’ve seen you dressed in armour,
I’ve seen you get undressed,
I know I should* want to possess you
But should you want to be possessed?
Ah, that slightly hoarse laugh
(too much whisky and cigarettes).
Recalling every line in detail
bar none come complete with
awkward pauses. Say no more,
I can manage it. I can manage
it, but I just can’t imagine it.
Treat it as a good thing,
just remember that it’s gone.
Not only that, but remember
it was unsuitable and wrong.
True love is just a big absence
and nothing to ask for. Remember,
there’s no music but music is yours.
With our daily checks on fortune
how can we believe, believe
in anything else? Say goodbye
to tricking out your old dreams.
Hey, let’s discover
what it’s all about,
let’s drink up each other
in the guise of going out,
spitting out miracles.
(*for years I heard ‘shouldn’t’: I think there’s a micro pause between ‘should’ and ‘want’ that I interpreted as ‘n’t’.)