Some sort of blare, stiffly echoing drums, the blare modulates down into a thick burble, and then
Oh my my
Little white lie
Swear I'm gonna make it right
It's like a radio
Turning way down low
Telling me things I do not know
Tonight you will be mine
Tonight the monkey dies
Tonight you will be mine
Tonight the monkey dies
The first time I heard "Monkey," a song I was prepared to dislike, it instantly became my least favourite Low song. Why was I prepared to dislike it?
- The title. I have an odd reaction to tracklistings of albums I'm anticipating. Either the song titles will sound 'cool' to me, and I'll anticipate it even more (see both Burial albums, for example), or else they'll sound stupid and ill-fitting, and I begin to dread the album. Most of the time in the latter case, once I've heard the songs the titles make sense (even if they seemed silly to me as stand-alone entities) and I often wind up liking them as titles quite a bit. I am aware this is a fairly shallow thing to do, and I think it stems from living in Kincardine before the advent of Napster and high speed connections; often, reading the allmusic entry on an album over and over was all I could do until the next time we passed through a city with an HMV, and I probably place too much emphasis on album art, album title and song titles as a result. For bands I already love (like Low), I can't say it's ever made me pass on giving a record or a song a chance; for bands I don't already know, though, I'm sure in the absence of strong recommendations it's made me miss out on some stuff. But we're all going to miss some stuff, and this is as good a rationale for sorting through the drifts of modern music as any.
- The change in direction. I mean, most of the time the only way I really love a band's pronounced shift in tone/sound is when I come to their latter work first (anyone from Tindersticks to Wheat serve as examples), and I was definitely a major fan by the time The Great Destroyer came out. I didn't have the box yet, but I did have all of the preceding studio LPs and I was deeply unsure that any sort of major shift in Low's sound would be successful. This seems silly in retrospect (I'm having trouble accessing the Stylus Archives, but my review of the record is if anything a bit conservative in its grade), but I remember actually being nervous before queuing up The Great Destroyer for the first time.
- The fact that I was reviewing it for Stylus. I asked for the next Low album after seeing the hatchet job someone long gone had done on Trust, but at the time I had no idea this was going to be their "break from tradition" album; I was stressed out over the idea of covering one of my favourite bands (writing about stuff you really love is never easy) and by the possibility that I'd have to say it sucked.
So the first few times through "Monkey," it was tough going. That chorus, menacing in a more Lynchian/nonsensical way than most of Low's, was a sticking point (what did it mean?), and I was unused to Alan being so overtly as opposed to implicitly aggressive (even with a great backing performance from Mimi). I hadn't adjusted enough yet, hadn't let go of what I hoped/feared the album would be and just listened to it on its own terms. On those terms, it's pretty special, especially as Low moved in a different direction later; I'll save most of my take on it as a great road album until "Silver Rider" or maybe another tracks, but ultimately it became the most reassuring Low album just because it shows that pretty much whatever Low turn their hands to they can succeed at. If they one day make a shitty, Give Out But Don't Give Up style rock album, I'll know it's not because they can't make great rock music.
And that's exactly what "Monkey" is, once I let it breathe; if the sign of a really great rock song is that it'll make you sing along to (and feel the significance of) pretty much anything, then my love of belting out "Oh, tonight you will be mine / Tonight the monkey dies" speaks volumes. I had a brief moment of wondering whether the song was a crypto-attack on Darwinism at first (which is, I am quite sure, manifestly unfair to the band), but it's definitely more personal than tat. The second set of verses, before we settle into the lengthy end choruses, is especially powerful (if still tantalizingly out of reach):
Now who's to blame
We used to be the same
Now you won't let me speak your name
What a shame
It's a suicide
Shut up and drive
We're never gonna make the light
But it's alright
I'm a big fan of the sentiment "shut up and drive," of course, and that almost staticky organ(?) part underlying the whole song adds reams of atmosphere, which repeatedly culminates in some awesome, thunderous cymbal work from Mimi between choruses (and accompanied by more organ and Alan's raging guitar). It's not my favourite on the album by any stretch, but when I play The Great Destroyer at work I definitely have to fight the urge to sing along and play a little air guitar.