Friday, May 21, 2010

Day 25: A song that makes me laugh

This one would be ridiculously easy if I went with a straight-up comedy song. Spinal Tap, Randy Newman, Tom Lehrer, almost anything from the first 8 years of The Simpsons, nerd-du-jour Jonathan Coulton...plenty of options. Hell, if I hadn't already mentioned it last month, I'd just throw up a video of Richard Thompson's 'Read About Love' ("He gave me a book / The cover was plain / Written by a doctor with a German name / It had glossy pictures, serious stuff / I read it seven times, and I knew it well enough") and call it a day. But I figured it would be more interesting - marginally-so, at any rate - to go with a funny song by a songwriter who doesn't normally go quite so obviously for the laughs.

Of course, there are still plenty of choices here, too. Plenty of normally-serious artists have tried to lighten things up over the years, to do something which offsets the relentless po-facedness of their 'normal' output. But unfortunately, most of them suck. This one, though, doesn't. Well, I don't think so, anyway.

The words "produced by Ben Folds" wouldn't normally fill me with confidence. Aside from his work on the surprisingly-excellent, no-really-it-is William Shatner album Has Been from a few years ago, I've never been fond of Folds' strain of self-consciously quirky college rock, and coupled with the trying-too-hard video, this sort of thing would normally set my teeth on edge. And works. For me, at least. It's not exactly a major piece of work from Palmer, and it sticks out like a sore thumb on the album it comes from - Who Killed Amanda Palmer, a record dominated by thoughtful, sensitively-arranged pieces of musically- and lyrically-literate art-pop - but it made me laugh the first time I heard it, and it still does. A song about rape, abortion and teenage ostracism wouldn't normally be the most obvious subject for an infectiously-catchy bit of comedy-pop, but it works here.

I forget when exactly I first heard this song, but it was actually one of the first Amanda Palmer songs I really listened to - I was vaguely aware of her former band, the Dresden Dolls, but they'd never quite grabbed me, so when she released a solo album, it rather passed me by. But I came across this song on Youtube one day, quite by accident, and it clicked with me, making me curious enough to check out the rest of the album. As I mentioned above, 'Oasis' is miles removed from the rest of the album in terms of content, style and tone - many critics seem to single it out as the weakest track, in fact, and while I don't agree, I can understand why - but it was the one which first introduced me to her music, so I retain something of a soft spot for it. The album would, to be fair, almost certainly be stronger without this song - it's funny, but out-of-place, and it drags down the far more overtly serious songs surrounding it, arguably harming the overall thematic cohesion - but on the whole, I'm still glad it's there.

It takes an aggressively light-hearted approach to a serious topic, and while that's a trick which plenty of people have attempted before, to manage it without trivializing the issue in question is still a neat trick to pull off. I reckon thatshe manages it perfectly, although I can understand why some people disagree strongly - the bottom line, as Palmer herself has pointed out, is that if the same lyric were set to a minor-key dirge, no-one would have batted an eyelid. That there's a disturbingly fine line between the comic and the tragic is hardly a new discovery, but this is about as good an illustration of the principle as any other I can think of.

More importantly, though, it's laugh-out-loud funny, in that gleefully-embracing-the-tasteless way which still so often works for me, however juvenile or crass. And the video is perfect - the high-five at 1:06 cracks me up.


Pål Hellesnes said...

Speaking of po-faced artists doing comedy..

Anonymous said...

Awesome choice. I find this song simultaneously hilarious (Melissa's expression cracks me up) and heartbreaking. As I see it, the lighthearted style is a nice way of underlining that the protagonist is too damn young to deal with the horrendous shit that's way above her maturity level, and escapes into her awesomely teenaged crush on a crap band instead. The contrast is way more affecting here than it would be in an E minor dirge.