Monday, June 11, 2007


I'm not scared of waking up / I'm not afraid of getting cut...

Okay, back on track. My life is both very slow and kind of busy right now, as I'm not single again. Which means less is getting done but also less free time. You know how it is.

When I wrote about anger and "Pissing," I originally intended to write about this. Not because it's angry, not at all really, but because there's an energy to "Canada" that I don't think even Low's other loud 'rock' songs manage. Part of it, it may or may not surprise you to know, is because I'm Canadian. Alan sings (and Mimi darkly repeats) "You can't take that stuff to Canada / You can't take it anywhere" three times in the song, and it's not exactly an unambiguously positive sentiment, but I still get a charge out of it - like a crowd at a concert cheering the mention of their home city, it's just a Pavlovian response.

But let me get back to Mimi's part in "Canada." She shadows Alan's mild caterwaul through the lines of the song with her own low, breathy voice, sounding simultaneously reproachingly parental and darkly forboding. Alan sings "You can't take it anywhere" with an exclamation point, Mimi with a period. Oddly enough it only adds to the charge this track gives me. And listen to the construction; starting out with a prolonged intro featuring what's either a heavily distorted bass or some keyboards before launching into what for most bands would be a midtempo stomp but for Low (especially after "(That's How You Sing) Amazing Grace") is thrilling, triumphant, forceful. Mimi hits the drums at a speed she's mustered at least a few times before, but whatever Alan is playing (is it power chords or something? my musicology is nonexistent) and sings those defiant open lines and I have to fight the urge to pump my fist.

I always figured the song was somehow about drug trafficking; the second verse, for example, is

You could la la la la la
And you could lie to all your friends
But you can't take that stuff to Canada
You can't take it anywhere

which for some reason fits, in my head. I mean, we're a pretty liberal society - if you can't get your pot into Canada, you're pretty much screwed. But as always with Low, I'm probably way off the mark. The one bit of the song that provides the needed calm to let the closing rendition of the chorus have the impact it needs connects up with all the other self-doubting/lacerating lines Alan exhibits through the discography but especially from Trust onwards:

I used to have a golden tongue
But now the words just feel like stones

Even that first line feels as if Alan's trapped halfway between a sincere albeit confident assessment of his talents and bitter mockery ("golden tongue" just feels a bit far for sincerity given the austerity of Alan's work), and although I maintain (possibly in the minority?) that Trust is 'classic' Low at the peak of their powers, giving their old template one last fair shake before branching out in new directions in their last two records, for someone who originally wanted to play really slow partly as a joke I can see how even that masterpiece as insincere or otherwise shameful. And I still maintain that one way to look at the increasingly negative or critical cast of Alan's lyrics over the last three albums is to wonder if he hasn't had a bit of crisis of faith during that period, which would add another layer to the words feeling "like stones" in his mouth.

Don't get me wrong, pretty much anything off of Drums and Guns is more radical for the band than even an obvious step forward like "Canada," but they don't get me so excited. I hope and kind of expect they'll play this one live when I see them at the end of June, and I think it'll be great. Even Low can use a pounding, surging anthem, but it's unsurprising that theirs would be so relatively knotted and fraught. Despite the interesting undercurrents, however, "Canada" mostly exists for me as a feeling of release and velocity.

Also the video is hilarious.


Inverarity said...

The poppiness and conventionality of the song are subverted by the vaguely sinister and strange lyrics. It reminds me of "Hatchet" in that respect.

Fantastic video. Of course, we border-dwellers have been there...

Ian said...

My dad used to work on the Windsor border, during law school. Oh, the stories I've heard...