Tuesday, December 2, 2008

I Remember

this is secretly one of our favourites

I'm not sure whether Alan's liner notes to the b-side version of "I Remember" found on A Lifetime of Temporary Relief are just indicating that alternate version of the opening song from Secret Name or to "I Remember" in general. I kind of hope it's the latter.

No disrespect to the version they recorded with Mimi singing lead for the UK "Immune" single. The drum machine and odd organ tones make for a striking arrangement, and of course Mimi herself sounds great. But for a record that at the time I'd been told was Low's loveliest, to come to Secret Name through a haze of muted optigan organ distortion (not, Alan takes pains to say, samples of record hiss), faraway kick drum and snare tap and Alan's exceedingly carefully placed guitar notes... "I Remember" in its primary form is a thing of total desolation, right down to Alan's high pitched but muted delivery of the song's few lines.

None of the notes in the box set or on Low's old web page reveal much about what's going on here, and even for Low at the time "I Remember"'s lyrics reach new heights of opaqueness and brevity:

I remember every number

I remember graduation

I remember painted faces

No they couldn't believe it was you
I knew

To have that be all that was said, to leave the last two minutes of a four minute song with nothing more than the odd guitar note (played on Gavin Rossdale's guitar, for whatever reason, and taken by Alan as more "evidence that i'm a pitiful guitar player," despite sounding fine to me) and the tender thump of the kick drum in Mimi's mini-kit... it's both somewhat frightening and oddly comforting. This, then, was a band not interested in coddling the listener, one that full realized how lush even something like "I Remember" could be in the right context. It also for the first time highlighted for me the menace lurking implicit in many of the songs on Things We Lost in the Fire - that couplet of "No they couldn't believe it was you / I knew" is redolent of crimes gone unpunished, or small town whispers, or just pasts you try to forget. In some ways it's almost paradigmatic in terms of the oblique violence lurking under much of Low's material at the time.

The b-side version injects too much warmth and colour into the arrangement to have quite the same effect, although without the example of the album version I would probably think it just another good, possibly even great Low song. But as it is this version just isn't cold enough, or stark enough, or harsh enough, to hit me as hard as the original. I can't think of any way to convey that effect to you except to note that, at one point, I stumbled upon this image under a long-forgotten context and all I could think was that it looks the way the Alan-sung "I Remember" feels: