Review Summary: The night's hard to get through.
Loneliness, it seems, has found a voice. Mortality, regret, isolation: all these themes find their way in; they dance and mingle and burrow in through your ears as the album progresses. Feelings are important here; they make up the majority of this album’s message, this juggernaut of emotion that drives at you from the opening line of “Sowing Season” and refuses to let up long after the faint guitar lines of “Handcuffs” fade away.
In the words of DeLillo, longing on a large scale is what makes history; it drives us, it motivates us – but here, all longing relates to alternatives, to what could have been, to what might yet be. Contemplative, regretful and downright depressing, Brand New have created their magnum opus – and it’s absolutely breathtaking.
A criticism often leveled at this album is its overarching sense of depression; this is not a happy record. Death, remorse, love and loss are all equally prevalent – and the unifying factor, above all, is sheer loneliness. It’s despondent, it’s bitter – but the themes, quite unlike this album’s successor Daisy, present themselves through reflection and self-analysis. These are songs for lonely nights in the dark; for breakups; for heartbreak and ache – but songs to heal to; to find consolation and slowly move on.
I used to pray like God was listening/I used to make my parents proud
I was the glue that kept my friends together/Now they don’t talk and we don’t go out
This part of Millstone, when the sheer pain in Jesse’s voice finally begins to show is when The Devil and God starts to come into it’s own – he speaks of a past life and past happiness, and his condemnation; his isolation is so complete that he feels even his God has deserted him. Ideas of faith and religion are scattered throughout the record, intermittently hopeful, but overbearingly dismissive. The third track on the album features a direct dialogue to Jesus – here, Jesse is demonstrating such hopelessness and isolation that the only person he has left to speak to is a God he fears no longer cares. As well as addressing death and the afterlife, the lyrics touch on the outcome of our religion – if Jesus did indeed die for our sins, Jesse seems to ponder, why did it simply “turn out a hate factory”?
Death is the main topic on the album’s longest song “Limousine”, over 7 minutes dedicated to the death of a young girl named Katie Flynn. Jesse sings from all possible perspectives of the tragedy; from the girl’s mother to the drunk driver that ended her life. The song deals with closure and loss, and reaches a peak with the repeated refrain: “I love you so much, do me a favour baby, don’t reply, cause I can dish it out, but I can’t take it”.
In the middle, following on from “You Won’t Know”, the album strays into an instrumental song, and although often dismissed as unimportant, or possible “filler”, it seems to provide a bridging point between two sides of the album: the opening six songs filled with loss and remorse, and those that remain – following on from it, themes become more pensive and reflective, but carry a stronger sense of momentum; of drive. Whilst death stalks the opening six songs, it seems more an afterthought here – if the start is the anguish, then this is an attempt to counter it.
Not the Sun seems more immediate; it carries less of a depressing vibe, and is probably the most “positive” track on the album. The lack of a slow intro allows the song to come across as more urgent, and less depressive – it carries its point forward with momentum, not depressing. This, however, is countered by Luca, which drives a similar feeling of sudden, oncoming emotion similar to Limousine; if there’s one thing Brand New do exceptionally well, it’s the soft to loud transitions. Here, the polar opposites between calm reflection and heart wrenching anger and grief are clearly represented: this explosion is the closest Jesse comes to completely losing his mind.
The remaining tracks seem to segue back through calm and reflection; a second instrumental track allows us to catch our breath, before pushing back on with urgency, and the album closes with reflection, with poignancy: “It’s hard to be the better man/When you forget you’re trying/It’s hard to be the better man/When you’re still lying”.
Plug in your stereo and crank up the volume. Place the CD into the tray. Pull down the blinds; turn off the lights. Settle back; press play; relax, absorb and understand. Think; reflect. This is a piece of art best taken in all at once to truly understand the meaning; the odyssey. Focus on the vulnerability of human nature at play; on the desire for closeness, the fear of being alone. Play it through; think, reflect. Allow the final bars to fade away.
What did you learn tonight?