Songs That Broke My Heart: Hallelujah by John Cale

John Cale Hallelujah

Con­ven­tional wis­dom will tell you nobody did Leonard Cohen’s “Hal­lelu­jah” bet­ter than Jeff Buck­ley. The few who dis­agree are likely of the opin­ion that noth­ing beats the orig­i­nal. Here’s a third opin­ion: the per­son who trans­formed Cohen’s song into the mod­ern stan­dard it is today was John Cale.

As I started to com­pile songs for this Songs That Broke My Heart series, I found myself not­ing more than a few cover ver­sions I found “sad­der” than the orig­i­nals. Maybe some songs have more pain embed­ded in them than their orig­i­nal cre­ators real­ized, or were capa­ble of express­ing. Per­haps the orig­i­nal artists pur­pose­fully obscured the darker themes for the lis­tener to slowly untease, only to have another artist come along later and lay it all bare.

The now-iconic song “Hal­lelu­jah” has a com­pli­cated lin­eage. Leonard Cohen’s orig­i­nal was released on the album Var­i­ous Posi­tions in 1984, and has since been over­shad­owed by a seem­ingly end­less parade of cover ver­sions. For­mer Vel­vet Under­ground mem­ber John Cale began it all with a spare, vocal-and-piano recita­tion for the 1991 Cohen trib­ute album I’m Your Fan. Time has obscured Cale’s ver­sion about as much as Cohen’s orig­i­nal, but it’s still the tem­plate influ­enc­ing nearly every sub­se­quent rendition.

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The Art of King Crimson’s The Power to Believe

King Crimson The Power to Believe

The Power to Believe, King Crimson’s lat­est album to date, is now almost a decade old. There are occa­sional glim­mers of life in the world of Crim­son (most notably the 2008 40th Anniver­sary tour/victory lap, the Jak­szyk, Fripp and Collins Pro­jeKct A Scarcity of Mir­a­cles, and the Crim­son Pro­jeKct live band) but it’s entirely pos­si­ble The Power to Believe will stand as the final state­ment (the epi­taph, if you will) by this fas­ci­nat­ingly com­plex band.

The Power to Believe was released in March 2003, just as the U.S. launched its mil­i­tary oper­a­tions in Iraq. Much of the music was com­posed dur­ing the 9/11 after­math and the war in Afghanistan. Cre­ated in this cli­mate, it’s not sur­pris­ing that the music and the album cover are fit­tingly apoc­a­lyp­tic. Despite every­thing, the album title and some aspects of the art­work do pro­vide hints of hope and new life to coun­ter­bal­ance the gloom.

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Albums That Broke My Heart: Sea Change by Beck

Beck Sea Change

You could throw darts at the track­list from Beck’s 2002 album Sea Change and each song you hit would be sad­der than the last. Hence this devi­a­tion in for­mat from our ongo­ing playlist of Songs That Broke My Heart… call it an Album That Broke My Heart.

Beck had always been equal parts folk (Muta­tions) and weird (Ode­lay), and per­haps at his best when he com­bined the two. Although his sense of humor and absur­dism usu­ally dom­i­nates, a pro­nounced dark­ness is often present. All of these ten­den­cies were on dis­play on his break­through sin­gle “Loser”, which, together with the roughly con­tem­po­ra­ne­ous “Creep” by Radio­head, was part of a groundswell of indie rock self-loathing in the mid 1990s.

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The Art of King Crimson’s Larks’ Tongues in Aspic

King Crimson Larks' Tongues in Aspic

King Crimson’s Larks’ Tongues in Aspic cel­e­brated its 40th anniver­sary in March 2013. Orig­i­nally met with skep­ti­cism in 1973, it now lives on in an array of new edi­tions with metic­u­lously restored sound, art­work, and hours of unheard record­ings. The 40th Anniver­sary “Com­plete Record­ings” box set is a beau­ti­ful piece of design in and of itself, but all in the ser­vice of restor­ing and pre­serv­ing the art­work and printed mat­ter that sur­rounded the orig­i­nal album release. The box includes repro­duc­tions of a num­ber of period arti­facts, includ­ing a hand­bill, ticket stub, and in the scrap­book, the orig­i­nal vari­ant US LP sleeve, and promo EP. Sadly, the oth­er­wise exten­sive liner notes do not directly address the sleeve art or design at all.

Declan Col­gan (of Pan­e­gyric Record­ings) con­tributes an essay to the Com­plete Record­ings scrap­book in which he argues that Crimson’s imme­di­ately pre­vi­ous release was a near-fatal com­mer­cial mis­step for a band already on thin ice. Crim­son was long hob­bled by a per­sis­tent insta­bil­ity fol­low­ing the breakup of the short-lived orig­i­nal lineup that recorded In the Court of the Crim­son King, made a huge splash on stages world­wide, then quickly broke up. Only one of the three sub­se­quent stu­dio albums was recorded by any­thing resem­bling an actual band. Worse for their com­mer­cial prospects, only one fur­ther tour was under­taken dur­ing this period, and still worse than that, the result­ing live album Earth­bound looked and sounded like crap.

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Doctor Who and The Rings of Akhaten: Imagine There’s No Religion

Doctor Who - The Rings of Akhaten poster

Is the Doc­tor Who episode “The Rings of Akhaten” already one of the series’ most mis­un­der­stood? Almost two years ago, the Doc­tor urged his com­pan­ions Amy & Rory not to live up to the title of “Let’s Kill Hitler”, for the vaguely-explained sci-fi rea­sons that chang­ing his­tory doesn’t always work out for the best. The Doc­tor defeated the devil before, in “The Impos­si­ble Planet” and “The Satan Pit” from Series 2. Here he has no com­punc­tions in also killing god.

I’ve now lis­tened to three fan pod­casts debat­ing the mer­its of “The Rings of Akhaten”, and was frankly sur­prised to dis­cover the episode has been met by Doc­tor Who fan­dom with ambiva­lence at best, and out­right deri­sion from the rest. I would cer­tainly not try to defend it as an instant clas­sic, but it cer­tainly does not deserve to be counted among the abysmal fail­ures like “Fear Her” and “Last of the Time Lords”. In fact, I would argue it’s wor­thy of praise for dar­ing to say some­thing poten­tially very con­tro­ver­sial. Per­haps it doesn’t say it very well (as evi­denced by the fact that none of the par­tic­i­pants in those three pod­casts so much as broach the topic), but at least it’s a story that strives to be more than the usual Doctor-defeats-an-alien-invasion rou­tine (not that there’s any­thing wrong with that rou­tine — as a life­long fan I love that routine!).

Out of all the var­i­ous opin­ions voiced by the hosts of Radio Free Skaro, Ver­ity, and Two Minute Time Lord, I align most with Chip of the lat­ter, who was pleased the show still has the poten­tial to be sur­pris­ing. But every­one, even Chip, failed to even address what I took to be the major take­away from the episode: the Doc­tor essen­tially res­cued a civ­i­liza­tion from a par­a­site they wor­shipped as a god. He freed a soci­ety from their self-defeating reli­gion, and they thanked him for it.

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Songs That Broke My Heart: Days in the Trees (Reich) by No-Man

No-Man Days in the Trees
No-Man’s Days in the Trees

Any playlist of sad songs I might com­pile must include No-Man, but it was no easy task to select only one piece from a song­book pos­i­tively chock full of them. To make my job a bit eas­ier, I went back to the band’s beginnings.

Sim­i­lar in style to their first break­out sin­gle “Colours” (a dra­matic reimag­in­ing of Donovan’s mid-60s folk-pop hit), “Days in the Trees” is very much an arti­fact of early 90s min­i­mal­ist art-pop. Despite its super­fi­cially dated pro­duc­tion, the song is quin­tes­sen­tial No-Man: Tim Bow­ness’ melan­choly vocals hov­er­ing over Steven Wilson’s looped break­beat, accom­pa­nied by Ben Coleman’s dra­matic vio­lin and very lit­tle else.

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The Songs That Broke My Heart

Rock ‘n’ roll is not an every­day con­ver­sa­tion topic around our fam­ily table, but the improb­a­ble longevity of The Rolling Stones was remark­able enough to come up once dur­ing din­ner. I had recently lis­tened to “Sym­pa­thy for the Devil” for the first time in a while, and remarked upon how sur­pris­ingly dark and intense it was, so much so that it gave me chills. My grand­mother asked why, then, would I delib­er­ately lis­ten to some­thing that unset­tled me?

She had a point. Upon reflec­tion, I’ve found that most of the music I hold dear is chill­ing (like the afore­men­tioned ode to Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Mas­ter and Mar­garita), chilly (like some of the more aca­d­e­mic, brainy music by Brian Eno, Philip Reich, or Robert Fripp), or just plain cold (pretty much every­thing else). Some have sub­ject mat­ter that makes you want to jump out a win­dow, some just sound like they do, and some may not be sad per se, but are rather so painfully beau­ti­ful I almost can’t bear lis­ten­ing to them.

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Inner Knot: The Art of King Crimson’s Discipline

King Crimson Discipline

The story of King Crimson’s revi­tal­iza­tion for a new decade with the album Dis­ci­pline has been told many times over. The 1981–84 period is usu­ally dis­cussed in terms of per­son­nel, with most com­men­tary mar­veling that no two con­sec­u­tive prior King Crim­son albums had ever before fea­tured the same lineup. No doubt, for a band defined by per­pet­ual lineup changes, it was novel indeed to finally sta­bi­lize around a fixed group of musi­cians. It’s a handy nar­ra­tive hook upon which to hang a record review, but it’s only part of the story.

1981–1984 saw the band unusu­ally focused on a core set of musi­cal ideas. They laid them out in a nearly per­fect the­sis state­ment in the form of their debut album Dis­ci­pline in Sep­tem­ber 1981. This “new” Crim­son was to be defined by inter­lock­ing gui­tar parts (shared at first by two vir­tu­oso gui­tarists, but expanded on later tunes like “Neal and Jack and Me” to encom­pass the full quar­tet), bleeding-edge tech­nol­ogy (drum and gui­tar syn­the­siz­ers, plus the futur­is­tic instru­ment the Chap­man Stick), quirky New York pop ten­den­cies (of the Talk­ing Heads vari­ety), a dash of world music influ­ences (par­tic­u­larly Afropop and Indone­sian game­lan), and com­po­si­tion derived through impro­vi­sa­tion (exam­ples being “The Shel­ter­ing Sky”, “Requiem”, and later most of side two of Three of a Per­fect Pair).

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Retina Favicons & Jungian Archetypes: A Pair of Updates

Two recent posts saw sub­stan­tial updates today:

King Crim­son Album Art: In the Wake of Posei­don
A com­menter got in touch with some very inter­est­ing details regard­ing Tammo de Jongh’s paint­ing for King Crimson’s In the Wake of Posei­don… or should I say twelve paint­ings? If this sounds inter­est­ing to you too, well, what are you wait­ing for? Read all about it in our revised visual essay.

Fav­i­con & Apple Touch Icon Adobe Fire­works Tem­plate
The scin­til­lat­ing topic of retina-ready fav­i­cons burst back into the world’s con­scious­ness recently when it became the topic of dis­cus­sion on Dar­ing Fire­ball and CSS Tricks. If you’re in the micro-infinitesimal sliver of soci­ety that finds any of this inter­est­ing and uses Adobe Fire­works, don’t miss this updated tem­plate file.