#31songs (7): One that makes you feel like you’re in a film
‘Ceiling Roses’, by The Blue Aeroplanes, from Spitting Out Miracles (1987)
The lyrics to ‘Ceiling Roses’, with their darkened skies, have a strongly visual quality, but the atmosphere is created primarily by the pace of the music, the rich, warm instrumentation, and the modulation to another key for the solos. The music moves like a strong but slow-moving current of water, with small eddies at the side. It’s calm but determined. After the preamble (tentatively blown wind instruments, very breathy, children’s voices), and the lead-in from the drums, the main theme is set down by the violin. If there’s an electric bass here it’s less important than the cello line: cello rather than bass threads everything together, makes the bottom end of the spectrum less percussive.
One way of thinking about the lyrics is as an unpicking of the idea of a ‘ceiling rose’: a flower? On the ceiling? Supporting a light fitting? But while that idea lies behind it, it’s clearer to start from the weary ‘a decision as always’ in the opening line: something needs to be done, but neither the narrator or the addressee wants to be the one to set things in motion. (I wonder if reluctance, along with drinking, is an ongoing theme on Spitting Out Miracles). ‘What do I have / to do with it?’ implies a whole conversation in which the narrator is being asked to make the decision by the other party. The part of the ceiling ‘away from the usual rose’ is the dark corner; it’s a break with routine (there’s also a phrase in the sleeve notes about ‘routine matters’ that doesn’t appear in the recording), and a move to a place where everything becomes unclear. In the second verse the darkness has been reworked as an exterior setting, ‘the sky which darkened over houses’. The ambivalence about the decision is here in the way that this oppressive sky is also covering them in beauty.
After the second verse there’s a change of key and an instrumental break that seems to be a comment on what went before: it reads to me like a darkening of mood. (Although late Pink Floyd might seem an odd reference point for a post-punk band, especially on this very folk influence album, the pace and the change of key sounds like something on The Wall.)
‘Oh promises come to bar talk’: again, this reads like a response to an unheard phrase from the addressee (‘Will you promise me?’), and it’s a shifty one. The placatory but non-committal ‘I know, I know . . .’ comes from the same place. Lips set in a straight line are neither smiling nor downturned, and they also suggest the path that runs ‘through all thought’ to a drunken conclusion. The final lines return to the opening ‘What do I have / to do with it?’, but don’t seem any more willing to take the responsibility: if the final ‘I promise’ sounds hopeful, it’s only because we’ve already forgotten about promises being no better than bar talk. And with the final words delivered, the music again takes a downward turn and comments darkly.
LYRICS (based on sleeve notes from the vinyl release)
Okay, a decision as always. What do I have
to do with it? Remember skies like a ceiling
away from the usual rose. Less light in the room
for an unclear picture, you can tear up anyway.
[Say goodbye to a lull in routine matters,]* some
people’s faces are always more than beautiful.
In spite of everything, I’m sure. There’s no
point in being told this, sweetness. Set a past
world in reverse, speed backward to a better
time. The sky which darkened over houses in bright
light covered us, we covered in all beauty.
Oh promises come to bar talk, set those lips
in a straight line, y’know you look intransigent
and cold. To think you have a polio heart,
I read it and it’s true, you run through all
thought to a drunken conclusion. I know, I know . . .
I know, I have
all to do with it, nothing to do with it. When
we wake up, we’ll be somewhere else, I promise.
[*printed in the sleeve notes, but not part of the recorded lyric.]