Through A Note Darkly: In Rainbows, Raw Power, Power, Corruption and Lies

Through A Note Darkly is a weekly feature on thegreatalbums.com in which contributor Chris Villalta ranks and reflects on three albums he's heard a lot about, but has never heard in full before.

3. New Order: Power, Corruption and Lies

Personal Favorite: “Age of Consent”

Summarizing Lyric: “Spoken words I cannot show” (“The Village”)

“On a thousand islands in the sea/I see a thousand people just like me.” To some such an image would lead to a sigh of a relief because it's proof that they're not alone. People are partly paying for this sense of community when they go to a concert or participate in fandom, but community isn't for everyone.

Seeing an island full of people just like you could fill you with a sense of belonging, but it could also fill you with a sense of normalcy, of averageness. I remember going to a metal concert when I was a wee little metal head and being so turned off by the amount of black clothes. I thought I was the only one who wore black, the only one who loved Slayer and Slipknot. I thought liking those bands made me unique, and it certainly did in the suburbs I was growing up in, but being at that concert showed that I wasn't special. There have been, are, and will be a ton of people like me. That is not always comforting to me and it wasn't comforting to New Order, at least not while making Power, Corruption and Lies. The record heralds obscurity from the start with “Age of Consent,” and it’s infectious, but appropriately sneaky chorus “I'm not the kind that likes to tell you/Just what I want to do.” Throughout we are given shrouded images of “those cold hands” (“Ultraviolence”) and sudden plot twists like “Their love died three years ago/Spoken words I cannot show” (“The Village”), all that spiral us down to the lyrics that started this reflection, “I see a thousand people just like me… For these last few days leave me alone,” leave me feeling as beautiful, as indescribable, as a shadow. Of course, it’s impossible to truly be as unique as obscurity allows one to be, but at least let me feel like I am.

2. Iggy Pop and The Stooges: Raw Power

Personal Favorite: “I Need Somebody”

Summarizing Lyric: “Don’t you try to tell me what to do”

Cleanliness is next to godliness, and that’s the problem. To be godly is to be inhuman; to try to keep clean is to neglect the part of you that needs to roll in glass-infested mud, to ignore your inner Iggy Pop. However, that inner Iggy can’t be ignored forever.

It may take longer for the forgotten to speak up and, more importantly, be heard, but when they do they make sure their words echo through every ear it reaches. Raw Power contains the scream of the parts of ourselves many try to forget. It gives a voice to not only our attraction to danger, but our comfort in it (“Gimme danger little stranger/And I feel with you at ease”), it lets that sex-crazed part of ourselves play with the word “penetration” over and over again, it says fuck you the way we so wish we could say fuck you sometimes, but it does all this while holding on to a strange bit of innocence. On almost all the songs there is a xylophone standing out like a confused 10 year old in a nightclub. The xylophone melodies reminds the listener that these psychos wailing into microphones didn’t come from nowhere. They truly were little forgotten boys once, a xylophone trying to stick out in a distorted world not made for them. The notes on the xylophone are unexpected tear drops on a record packed with fuck you’s, tear drops that give it that imperfection necessary for something to be raw. As crazy as they were, even Iggy Pop and The Stooges couldn’t do sex-crazed rage perfectly. Some sentimentality leaked through, sentimentality that muddies up an already muddy record. This sentimentality is key. It keeps the record from making the same mistake Iggy and The Stooges accused everyone else of making–forgetting them. They don’t ignore the sex, the romantic, the sadness, the angst, nothing because to ignore one is to castrate your humanity, and life’s too short to not be as human as possible through the whole thing.

1. Radiohead: In Rainbows

Personal Favorite: “Jigsaw Falling Into Place”

Summarizing Lyric: “Make the sound/Removed backbone/A pale imitation” (“Bodysnatchers”)

Three records worth of gnawing at the idea of music, three records worth of seeking structures as satisfying as pop songs and crescendos, three records worth of big ideas, of finding a new golden ration and what’s the conclusion? “Don’t get any big ideas/they’re not gonna happen.” 

In Rainbows is Radiohead finding out that the fifteenth step was one that would bring them right back where they started, pleasing ears with accessible melodies, only they weren’t right back where they started. They’ve been to the bottom, they’ve seen the weird fishes that are OK ComputerKid A, and Hail to the Thief who live down there, and they were able to make music with the residue of those records on their fingers. They saw the parts that worked and amplified them to deliver what I think are some of their best songs, but the fact that their best songs are fairly easy to get into might have been disappointing to the band. The record is packed with a rage against the flesh and how it limits the mind with its constant maintenance of an equilibrium. “I am trapped in this body and can’t get out,” “You’ve got a head full of feathers/You’re gonna melt into butter,” “Jigsaw falling into place.” In other words, GODDAMNIT SKIN, YOU’RE ANNOYING! At least, that’s the phase I’m in. I’m still holding onto the delusional belief that I or somebody else can truly innovate something, truly change the world and eliminate the repetition of history, so skin and its limitations and silly needs like sleep really do piss me off sometimes, but Radiohead were entertainment veterans by the release of In Rainbows. Their experience gives the record a tired, almost defeated feeling, but defeat with a smile. There is one goldden ratio; innovation is possible, but true revolution may be impossible in a cyclical, entropic world, and that’s all okay. The music, the picture the jigsaws falling into place are creating, may seem too easy, too predictable, but goddamnit skin, you do make some pretty noises.