The old record box has thrown out some lovely surprises in this month’s bumper crop: a reunion with a clinical pop masterpiece in Roxette’s ‘It Must Have Been Love’, the indie rock rush of The Wedding Present’s ‘2, 3, Go’, and an R.E.M. 12” of high quality (‘Orange Crush’). But there have also been some disappointments, including Sade’s ultimately frustrating ‘No Ordinary Love’ and Cecil’s uninspiring ‘The Most Tiring Day’.
Patrick Park’s ‘Honest Skrew’ (catalogue number BUN 066/7) joins this batch, but not because I don’t like it. Really this song is like a nice old coat that sits at the back of the wardrobe, seldom seen or worn but enjoyed when it every-so-often emerges from the gloom and the dust.
This song is also infused with memories. The first connection is to my friend Eddy who turned me on to Park in 2004 when this single’s parent album, ‘Loneliness Knows My Name’, came out. Although weirdly what came rushing back along with that is a load of memories of Eddy that feel closely connected to the song but that actually pre-date my ever hearing this music. I think of the house in which Eddy and I lived and, by strong connection, all the times that we had while there: the ex-girlfriend that I started going out with while there, and who I spoke to on an old, red rotary dial telephone in the hall; our strange, commuter-heavy part of London that seemed to have no soul or community, save for a great pub quiz; being attacked by local kids when we left, fending off thrown apples with my wok; going to see our friend Erol’s band in New Cross; smoking on the stoop; late night drunk shopping in Tesco’s.
I suppose memories of the time period of listening to this song and the LP get lost in the whirlwind delight of meeting my wife. Perhaps that explains why the music has such positive vibes…
But as well as saying how much I used to/still do like the music that comes out of the box, and telling you connected stories about it, the writing of this column does involve me listening to the music again (or in some cases for the first time…). And that’s where the problem arises for ‘Honest Skrew’. This is an enjoyable rock’n’folk’n’roll composition. There’s dynamism and emphasis in the tune, and Park’s voice has the timbre and expressiveness necessary for you to believe what he’s singing and to be interested in what he’s saying. Who is this honest screw ? And why the ‘k’ in the title ?
I start off believing this is about someone making a break for sexual freedom, trying to be able to enjoy sex for sex’s sake, but ending up plagued by guilt, shame, self-doubt. Certainly “last night’s naked kisses mock you over your shoulder/They light you up, then they blow you out” seems to lean that way. But other elements don’t fit that – they seem to belong to a story about someone else, someone who ends up isolating themselves through over-sharing, perhaps being woundingly direct through bitterness: “you always go too far”, “lonely heart”, “hush hush before you say/something you can’t take away”, “the world doesn’t need you around”. Who is narrating this track, and should the line “wake up next to you” begin with an ‘I’ ? Whatever’s going on, the screwed and the screwer are in close proximity – perhaps it’s even one and the same person and it’s a ‘waking up’ (next to) to oneself – and sex and loneliness are painfully intertwined.
For me that lack of clarity is eventually frustrating – and I suppose it illustrates why lots of (most ?) lyrics shouldn’t be too carefully examined because they simply don’t make that much sense. I’m inclined to believe that’s because lots of songwriters, searching for a match between melody and lyrics, don’t look as closely at the words as they otherwise might. A friend is always surprised that I put so much store in the lyrics in terms of what music I like – and certainly in the music I love – because “the words aren’t that important”. “But they are !” I scream.
Editing is perhaps something that isn’t done often enough in the world of lyric writing – how else to explain the amount of lyrics that just read like lists with every line starting with ‘and’ even though there’s no real purpose to the word’s place there. Or the fact that so many songs feature lines like “and the wind it did blow” (rather than “the wind blew” or “the wind was blowing”) because it might fit the metre or the rhyme. It might make the editing job more complicated but it’s a bit lazy, a bit basic, to phrase something in an archaic way that doesn’t sound anything like the way people speak.
So the words aren’t necessarily precise enough and the tune, for all its positive points, simply isn’t as big, bold and beautiful as I remember. In fact after a while it begins to sound a bit pedestrian; either it should have started more subtly to give it more room to grow into its more bombastic phases, or the bridge needed expanding so that it didn’t sound so much as though Park had run out of words to put in the gaps. It’s a fine number – but nothing more.
B-side ‘Snow Don’t Fall’ was originally written and recorded by Townes Van Zandt and featured on ‘The Late Great Townes Van Zandt’, one of the albums that he put out in 1972. It’s a pretty straight-ahead folk song, about the distance between two lovers, presumably on account of the lady being dead – it all being in the past tense makes the suggestion, and I think the fact that she “lies beneath frozen skies/and waits in sweet repose for me” shuts the door. I’ve never trusted such simple statements in poetry and song, and Townes had a bent for tragedy. Thing is – and if a certain friend of mine reads this I am ripe for excommunication – Townes has never held much fascination for me. Sure he’s ok but nothing more, and this Park version leaves me equally un-wowed. What’s the fuss all about ?