Music

Tracks They'll Be Talking About: 5 Divisive Songs on Great Albums

Bon Iver's "Beth/Rest" is just the latest song that beguiles as many fans as it detracts.

Bon Iver's self-titled new album debuted at number two on the Billboard 200 album charts last month, and most critics and fans are responding favorably to the record. But for all of the press the album has picked up (i.e. how do you make a follow-up to a beloved debut album, will Bon Iver succumb to a sophomore slump?), the biggest story of Bon Iver seems to be the last song.

"Beth/Rest" begins with an unmistakable late-'80s synth hook that has drawn comparisons to Bruce Hornsby. For others, it sounds like mid-'80s Chicago (especially "Hard Habit to Break"). Regardless, it's a horribly dated sound. So dated in fact, that people either see "Beth/Rest" as a brave declaration of love for music that we're taught not to love because of its lack of coolness, or as another example of crass hipster irony.

Bon Iver joins a select number of other albums that fit the same scenario: an album that contains a wildly divisive song that earns the band detractors from even their most dedicated fanbase. Unlike full album departures (see Neil Young's Trans or Hole's Celebrity Skin), these albums fit neatly in a band's arsenal, with the glaring exception of that one song that everyone talks about. For many, that one song is an unmistakable blemish on an otherwise perfect album. For others, these songs are unfairly maligned. Regardless, these songs provide a good amount of debate in otherwise universally-lauded releases.

 
The Beatles - "Revolution 9" (The Beatles)

Just as "The White Album" is the go-to comparison for a wildly ambitious attempt at a band to utilize all of its strengths, damned the results, "Revolution 9" is the standard bearer of any "track they'll be talking about" song. Yoko Ono's avant garde leanings were all over this track, as it used remnants from "Revolution 1" and incorporated loops, overdubs, and chaotic musical arrangements.

One of the joys of listening to The Beatles is its demand on the listener. A true "White Album" listening experience means listening to the album in full. That means accepting the "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da"'s and "Why Don't We Do It in the Road?"'s because those tracks just make the "Why My Guitar Gently Weeps"' and "Blackbird"'s all that more rewarding. But even die-hard fans may find listening to "Revolution 9" a chore as it comes so late in the album. At over eight minutes, "Revolution 9" makes you question whether the inventors of the Compact Disc came up with the "skip" concept just for this very song.

 
Bob Dylan - "Rainy Day Women No. 12 & 35" (Blonde on Blonde)

Blonde on Blonde is inarguably one of the greatest double albums ever released. It's an album that showcases Dylan at his most fearless musically and his songwriting was just as ambitious. Yet even Dylan scholars may stop just short of calling Blonde on Blonde a perfect album because of "Rainy Day Women No. 12 & 35".

Stoners may still chuckle at the chorus, but compared to the sprawling "Visions of Johanna" and epic "Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands", "Rainy Day Women" seems like a bad rom/com trailer one has to sit through before watching a film classic. The good news is that the most annoying song on the album is quickly dispatched, leaving the listener to enjoy the rest of Blonde on Blonde without any other bumps.

 
Lucinda Williams - "Wrap My Head Around That" (West)

While West will never be on the same level of "The White Album" or Blonde on Blonde, it showed us a familiar Lucinda Williams, singing about heartbreak, longing, and loneliness. That is until "Wrap My Head Around That". For about 20 years, most of Williams' songs adhered to the standard of most great country and rock songs: punchy, memorable characters and choruses, and out in less than four minutes. Then came "Wrap My Head Around That".

At a punishing nine minutes, "Wrap My Head Around That" embraces R.E.M. singer Michael Stipe's "stream of consciousness" songwriting approach as it marches along. As the song seems to go in circles, you hear the occasional "mmm hmmms" sung with a fuzzy soundbox-like effect. At the end, the listener is left dazed and dizzy, but for all the wrong reasons.

 
OutKast - "My Favorite Things" (The Love Below)

The lead-up to Speakerboxxx/The Love Below had speculators assume that the Big Boi side would be filled with conventional hip-hop standards and Andre 3000's The Love Below would supply the crazy artistic peaks that we've all come to expect in an OutKast album. What many critics didn't expect was to have Big Boi supply not only speaker-ratting beats, but thoughtful ruminations about the world, and plenty of examples of otherworldly innovations on tracks like "War" and "Church".

Of course, Andre 3000 supplied plenty of his own peaks on The Love Below, especially on the "shortlist for best song of the decade" track "Hey Ya!" and the erotic "Spread". But Andre 3000 tended to overstretch toward the end of The Love Below. This is nowhere more apparent than his nod to the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic "My Favorite Things". It's one of the tracks most mentioned when pointing out why Speakerboxx/The Love Below deserves to be on the second-tier of OutKast albums behind Stankonia and Aquemini. Unfairly maligned? Perhaps. But "My Favorite Things" remains one of the better examples of the importance of a good editor.

 
Wilco - "Less Than You Think" (A Ghost Is Born)

A Ghost Is Born begins abrasively with the jarring "At Least That's What You Said", and while there are plenty of warm moments throughout the album, that noise-filled uneasiness is never too far from the listener's ear, such as in the tennis-match sear of "Spiders (Kidsmoke)". But even vocal defenders of Ghost may have a hard time listening to "Less Than You Think".

Tweedy insists that "Less Than You Think" would not be included on Ghost if he didn't think it was worthy. The track, extending to a punishing 15 minutes, was reportedly recorded to convey the experience of a debilitating effect of a migraine to a listener. Mission accomplished.

So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less
6

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less
Theatre

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less
10

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less
7

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image