Monday, July 23, 2007

Walk Into the Sea

There are two songs on The Great Destroyer that mention the album's title. "Silver Rider" is much more ambiguous, saying "The great destroyer / She passes through you like a knife," which still leaves plenty of room for "Walk Into the Sea"'s more direct formulation to apply: "Yeah, time's the great destroyer / Leaves every child a bastard."

As with most recent Low songs, Alan and Mimi's children (or at least the fact that they are parents) resonates through those lyrics, but what is bizarre and wonderful about "Walk Into the Sea" is that it is a song at peace, and even joyous, while considering the end. That it should lead smoothly not into a quiet retirement (as the album made me fear at the time) but into the harsh glare of mortality found on "Pretty People" is the oddest juxtaposition I can think of in Low's work, and no less so just because the songs are separated by albums and a year.

The song starts with some anticipatory guitar pickup noise and then Mimi launches into one of her best drum parts, reaching towards but deviating from the classic "Be My Baby" one - twothree beat. That beat (hers is more onetwo - three - four) and Alan's muscularly strummed guitar are the foundation of the track, and over it Alan asks "Do I have to stay alive / Just to keep our dresses white?" and sings of the way "You tell me about a Savior / And how the soul lives on forever." The note of almost blithe unconcern I mentioned on "Just Stand Back" is here revealed as nothing less than the product of love; even as he sings "And time's just a hunger / It bleeds us out to nothing,"* the conclusion Alan comes to is "When it finally takes us over / I hope we float away together."

After the second repetition of those lines there's a pause in the drums, a prolonged and lovely "oooooh" from Alan and Mimi and either a xylophone or some bells count down to the brief wordless coda of the song.

I'm not sure what it is about "Walk Into the Sea" that fills me with such a deep sense of contentment, that convinces me that such a sense is shared by the song and by Alan (at least for the duration). The closing diptychs of the last few Low albums have been extremely interesting, and just as "Murderer" and "Violent Past" interact with each other to make the end of Drums and Guns so satisfying "Walk Into the Sea" is almost a comment upon its predecessor, "Death of a Salesman." I'll save getting into that song for its own entry, of course, but the Alan of "Walk Into the Sea" could almost be the beaten-down "prisons and math" man from "Death of a Salesman" had he chosen differently. As with "Pretty People" (although expressed less harshly) this song is about realising that everything is not all right, that viewed a certain way we're all fucked, and that there's little we can do about it. I think it's instructive that the opening lines are "I could walk into the sea / And choke away the memory," and not "I will" etc. Part of this song is very much in line with the existentialist thought that part of our freedom comes from realising that the only thing that keeps us alive is our decision, moment by moment, to keep living. And that therefore even the fact that we're all gonna die can't be that bad - if it was, we wouldn't decide to stick around.

So "Walk Into the Sea" (and do note what part of the song that title emphasizes!) feels like both an acknowledgment that our fates are in our own hands (Alan doesn't mock that saviour he's told about, but he doesn't sound particularly keen on Him either), and a deep certainty that above and beyond any of the things discussed in the song which are depressing on the face of it everything is going to be okay. That last part I think is down to the way they sing "Walk Into the Sea," and part of that is in contrast to "Death of a Salesman" and its immediate predecessor "Pissing." If the album represents the same 'voice' throughout, by the time of this final song that voice is at peace with all its anger and regret, and looks forward to both life and the inevitable "floating away" with aplomb. A trick we could all do well to master.

* (usually when there's a discrepancy between Low's own site and the SongMeanings one (which I use because Low's new site doesn't have all of their lyrics yet) I go by the band; but when Low's site tells me the second line in that couplet is "It leads itself to nothing" and my own careful listening to the track tells me that there is a definite 'b' sound and nothing that sounds like itself, I both go with the other version and also wonder why this would be edited/changed (or unchanged, if the 'bleeds' version is a later gloss) for public consumption.


Inverarity said...

I have something to say about Death of a Salesman, but I'll save it. I think it's quite a positive song, though - looked at in the right way. And it fits nicely into this.

I love the militaristic feel of this song, and the humble and personal denouement it drives towards. (Though I don't know what the "dresses" line is about - the elliptical lyric bothers me in an otherwise straightforward song) It's a great ending to a harsh album: uplifting, but in a very realistic way.

Ian said...

That's an excellent way to put it. I find personally that the most uplifting songs are those that are most realistic - which often leads to them having surface details or what have you that some people take for depressing. I'm not sure I follow you on DoaS, but we'll see.

Inverarity said...

You know, the "bastard" bit used to bother me, because I thought Alan was trying to say "orphan." But it struck me a few days ago that he wasn't trying to say "orphan" - he was saying what he meant: a fatherless child. Which made the song even more emotionally resonant for me.

It's nice when a lyric you didn't like becomes one you love, you know?