The brief ambient interlude "The City in a Hundred Ways" is, compared to the other four tracks in Together We're Stranger's opening five-track suite, mostly inconsequential. But what it manages to say in its two and a half minutes is quite resounding.
First he was alone. Then he was crowded out by the ant-marching of city life. Now, our narrator is somewhere else, a place that’s near-indescribable. From the sound of “The City in a Hundred Ways”, the only instrumental track on Together We’re Stranger, he is in a sort of fugue or comatose state. Viewed in context—specifically as the precursor to “Things I Want to Tell You”—this seems like the intention of Tim Bowness and Steven Wilson in crafting this piece. The latter song is about awakening to a world of pain; correspondingly, the former is a hazy depiction of a mind clouded by unprocessed thoughts, rising emotions, and better-forgotten memories. The narrator’s plight is now similar to that of Leonard Shelby’s in Christopher Nolan’s reverse-narrative masterpiece Memento: “I can’t remember to forget you”. It’s a fitting parallel for more reasons than one: this little song is cinematic in how it mentally evokes a dreamlike montage of blurry remembrances of a love not so long lost.
In the grand scheme of Together We’re Stranger, “The City in a Hundred Ways” seems like a throwaway initially. At 2:23, it’s the shortest thing here (barely beating the vinyl-exclusive “Bluecoda” by 13 seconds), and its instrumentation is comprised of nothing more than slowly played horns and electronics—the latter provided by guest contributor David Picking. Compositionally it bears a noticeable likeness to the act of an orchestra tuning up, trying to find that perfect pitch. But in the case of this piece, it doesn’t quite get to that perfection. As a piece it sounds almost floating; whereas cuts like “All the Blue Changes”—while undoubtedly interpretive—make a fairly clear point, “The City in a Hundred Ways” is the most ethereal part of this LP, no small feat considering the myriad meanings one can draw from Bowness’ lyrics. Considering the plight of the narrator, this foggy quality is best described as the result of the transition shock from being left all alone to being thrust back into the ever-shuffling world of the city. As the listener follows along in this man’s plunge into the world of heartbreak, they becomes just as disoriented as he is.