Monday, November 12, 2012

8th Grade Playlist: #4. Lonely Boy by The Black Keys

Music is a conversation. One artist says something through a song and then a different artist responds with his or her own song. Sometimes the response brings in a fresh idea and other times the response is a restatement, an elaboration on the first idea.

When I state that “Lonely Boy” is the one of the greatest modern Rolling Stones' songs, it’s meant as a complement. The blues inspired rock of the Rolling Stones with their profound lyrics are a statement that has been screamed down the decades of pop music and that continue to engender responses. The Black Keys did an amazing job doing just that, elaborating on what the Rolling Stones said while bring a fresh perspective.



It starts with a riff, a short musical idea that is repeated. This three-note pattern gives way to another riff, with contrasting musical colors and an upbeat groove. Each layers that is added has a grit, a dirtiness, reminiscent of “Rocks Off.” Alone these elements would be a musical train wreck, but the fact that they are tied together with a tight an infectious grooves makes something that should feel so wrong, feel so right.

Like the lyrics of “Under My Thumb,” there is a deeper story that is being told in this song. While the musical landscape of this song is aggressive and full of bravado, the lyrics reveal a sense of sorrow and insecurity.

The opening line is about a guy being “above” a girl. Despite the fact that he is so much better than her, he falls in love her anyways. She hurts him, but he says that “I don’t mind bleeding.”  If she was really that much below him than he wouldn’t be “bleeding,” and he definitely wouldn’t be waiting.

The second verse continues this insecurity as he insults her saying he should have left her like her dad did. This is a horribly mean thing to say but like the statement “Under My Thumb,” it is an overcompensating response. He has been hurt so badly by this girl that the only way he can try to save face is to go to extremes. This is not an abusive man but a scared, torn down soul.

There's heartbreak and a resignation by stating “I’m A Lonely Boy.” While he tries to embrace his reality but he is clearly in conflict. Even though there is a chorus of voices and a glorious rock sound, this is a break-up song. It’s a song about feeling tortured, and responding to these feeling through anger and bitterness while at the same time not being able to let go of love. This tension mirrors the messy riffs being held together tightly by the groove.

Why does this song make us feel so good? Because love, even when it drives people to dark places makes us feel alive.

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