Locus Focus: Take Sixty-Nine!
This theme is driving me crazy. =P There's something about getting the sense of place right in the music that seems to make musicians think that they can be shifty with the lyrics. I've just spent the past week going through my music collection and listening more closely to all the songs that I've found most transporting--and virtually all of them are stingy when it comes to description.
It's not that they take you to places where the writers have been, but that they take you inside the writers' heads, into their experiences of the places. And these are often encoded in flashes of colour, sound and other sensations that are never quite decoded in the songs. It is such maddening elusiveness that gives rise to speculative posts like the following. Fun for fans to write, yes, but likely hysterical to those who know the true stories.
Nothing goes to plan/ It's all a game of chance, they say, in Wonderland/ There's magic in the air,/ A tragic love affair that I don't understand . . .
It made sense for McFly to open every show on the Wonderland tour with Ultraviolet. It should have been the song that opened the Wonderland album as well, but they didn't ask my advice in this matter.
This second album has another sort of setting, being about a very heady "place" in their career. In less than two years, they had had four consecutive Top 5 singles, a certified double platinum album, a sold-out tour, and the distinction of taking the Guiness World Record for being the youngest band to debut an album at #1 away from The Beatles. And it was around this incredible time that they were asked to appear as themselves--albeit a fictional version of themselves--in a Hollywood movie set to be filmed in New Orleans. I like to think that this is the still the strangest thing that has ever happened to them.
There are definitely other places in the world more different from their England (Bolton, Essex, London) than New Orleans--such as Uganda, which the boys also visited a few months earlier. But while I'm sure they were deeply moved by the poverty they witnessed, they never wove the Uganda experience into a song. New Orleans got a song.
Mrs. Halloween/ Is drinking at the bar again in New Orleans/ She throws another dart/ And narrowly avoids my lonely broken heart . . .
So what did happen in New Orleans? McFly are telling . . . and they're not. We are left to piece together truncated references to "summer girls" . . . surreal scattered images in "ultraviolet light" . . . a kiss that feels like a dream . . . and that just as likely was a dream . . . There's a reason this song reminds me of Duran Duran's mysterious and even more atmospheric Save a Prayer--the main difference being that McFly don't kill all the subtlety with the last verse. (You just had to brag that it was a one-night stand, didn't you, Mr. LeBon?)
Yet "Wonderland" is not only New Orleans, but also a state of success and fame in youth that precious few ever achieve. It just took the tangible strangeness of the former to give them the metaphors they needed to write about the intangible strangeness of the latter. Well, that and the lost familiarity of that one place where they say you can never go back to . . .
The last song on the album (and the last number before the inevitable encore in the live shows) is the sober, wide-eyed reality check that is Memory Lane.
I include it here just because there's no such thing as too much McFly.
"Two years away, got back today/ Tried calling up this girl I used to know/ But when I said hello, she didn't know/ Just who the hell I was supposed to be . . ."