Evenin’, folks! I’ve been on a Teens of Denial kick lately, which is quite a mix of feelings what with Twin Fantasy coming out. I was rereading that post Will made about Twin Fantasy vs Denial and how they’re both concept albums, but one is a romance and one is a bildungsroman, and I’ve been trying to listen to Denial as a concept album. With Twin Fantasy it’s much easier, I can’t exactly say why, but I think it’s because the songs are laid out in order of the way the relationship portrayed on it went, so it’s easy to follow along. Denial is harder to experience this way, and I cannot for the life of me figure out the reason, so I’m gonna make a column out of it in hopes to understand Will. I’ll update you by the end. (Overexposed) enjoy.
Fill in the Blank – I’m already cheating by skipping ahead, but the main character seems to be Joe, so I’ll tell this about Joe. Anyways, here’s Joe introducing himself to us with, plain and simple, both how depressed he is and how angry about being depressed he is. It’s quite an opening. He’s already tried to fix the problem, he can’t, everyone keeps giving him suggestions that he finds idiotic, and he has resigned to just giving up and complaining about it, albeit poetically, on the first track. Joe is shaping up to be a fun guy. (Scratch that, I can’t judge Joe. I am Joe. We’re all Joe.)
Vincent – Our main character has laid down the foundations of how upset he is, and here seem to be the details. I can’t decide if “Vincent” is hazier or more sarcastic than “Fill in the Blank,” but it’s definitely somewhere in the mix. The chorus of this one in particular is pretty interesting since it’s laid out as Joe Gives Up On Himself, then there are a couple lines of Maybe Joe Did Not Quit After All, and then it goes back to Nevermind, Joe Is A Bucket Of Self-Loathing. He seems to talk about himself a lot, Joe does. Maybe that’s the point. It’s not that this song is filler, it’s that it deserves more than a paragraph. I hope I come back to “Vincent” sometime.
Destroyed By Hippie Powers – I think this is the beginning of Joe reacting to events rather than Joe talking about himself. It also seems the beginning of Joe thinking that sobriety is something to be defeated. This song seems a little panicky to me, and I can’t decide if that’s a side effect of the first part or the second, but it’s there all the same, and by the end of the song we have a fucked-up dude. This song goes from nervous to cocky, which is an excellent jump into the hangover that is the next song.
Drugs With Friends – Like i said, hangover. Joe is talking about how much he hates doing drugs yet continues to try in the first bit of the song, and I think he comes to the conclusion that indeed drugs are bad, but he will continue to do awful things to himself. This strikes me as a sampler of that feeling when you’re upset about something and try to take comfort in a very small part of it, like, I’m ruining my body and mental health and social life, but at least I know it’s morally wrong to do it! There’s also a bit of commentary I’ve read about the appalling nature of using drugs as social currency, and again there is more to be said about that, but this is a story, and meta does not fit well in stories unless of course you are Will Toledo. Alas.
Not What I Needed – It’s not that this is the weakest song lyrically on the album, it’s that this is the hardest to fit in as a puzzle piece in this context. Maybe that’s because it’s not the originally planned version for this album. It seems like maybe a… maybe not happier, but more upbeat version of giving up, as if Joe has resigned to the fact that being bitter is harder than just not caring. There are definitely some hopeless lines in this one, but it seems to me more transitioning into that stage of trying to start anew in life and not really being able to do it correctly, like he’s tried it one too many times and attempting to do so has lost the spark it once had.
Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales – This is the mental breakdown. Joe gets drunk (as is often the case) and tries to work up the courage drive home and ends up just collapsing into the “it doesn’t have to be like this, killer whales” refrain. Pretty self-explanatory- it doesn’t have to be like this. Joe doesn’t have to keep doing this to himself, but he does. On the other hand, it doesn’t have to be like this! He can do something about it! Turn off the engine, get out of the car, and start to walk. The killer whales complete this thought, what with the “Blackfish” explanation. This song works really, really well as a turning point, and I’m glad it’s the halfway-through track.
1937 State Park – Our lovely main character is once again thinking about how useless he is. He’s watching everyone watch this high school kid dying (maybe it’s metaphorical, who knows) and everybody celebrating this kid’s life and being upset and emotional about it, and here’s Joe thinking that he didn’t have much of a life to celebrate at all. Nothing is going to happen when he’s gone. He wants to do something to be remembered by, but his ideas are less than moral. He seems to be quite worried about this, but sort of refuses to do anything but dance around the issue.
Unforgiving Girl – I think this is the only full song that can be compared to something of a love song, but it’s a Joe-styled love song in the sense that it’s, and forgive me for saying this, kind of whiny at points. He seems to have known this girl at one time in his life, and he talks about how he doesn’t regret breaking up with her (or whatever the situation was), but then he goes into the first pre-chorus where he suddenly talks about her in a nicer tone. Then at the last verse he’s back to disliking her. It’s very flip-floppy, and I’d think it’s more of a narrative decision than a plot point, but I suppose I don’t know for sure. It functions well as one, anyways.
Cosmic Hero – This song, every line of this song, is the internal monologue of someone who knows they’re depressed, and who knows they’re admitting it by being the way that they are, but still tries to act like they don’t want to admit it. Joe is a terrible person more or less, and he’s not helping himself, but he’s acting high-and-mighty to balance it out. It’s not a crescendo because “Costa Concordia” is the crescendo to end all others, but it’s one hell of a buildup to say the least. There is also absolutely a swirl of Intrusive Thoughts: The Musical with lines like “you could lie down in the river at last/and let the dread complete you.” Even with “Fill in the Blank” on the record, I think this is the best translation of thoughts like this into lyrics, and if not this song, it’s definitely…
The Ballad of the Costa Concordia – Yeah. This one hits too, and I absolutely need to make a solitary post about this beast (monster thing). “Costa Concordia” is the most give-up track I have maybe ever heard (if there are others, they’re also by Car Seat Headrest, I promise you that), to the point where there’s an entire section that’s just “I GIVE UUUUUUUP.” At first Joe is just wallowing, as he is wont to do, but then he jumps into the spoken monologue. The monologue, which is actually pretty powerful, is the first time that Joe convincingly attempts to paint himself in a better light. At least a light in which he is less responsible for his own destruction. The last verse especially is what I think marks the coming-to-terms-with-it pinpoint on the record, when it hits Joe in real time that he’s hurting the people he loves.
Connect the Dots – A turning point of sorts? Joe starts thinking about going to heaven and meeting all these people, but accidentally leads himself to the conclusion that he doesn’t really want to do it so bad that he’d do it on purpose. He’s going to have to deal with his life himself. It’s his own responsibility, and he can’t just rely on depression to get it done for him. Truth be told I forget this song exists a lot, it ties itself to “Joe Goes to School” in my head in terms of lyrical content. Sidebar, I think the space/heaven theme (motif? Theme or motif? No one has taught me these things.) anyways i think the space/heaven theme-tif is very interesting. It shows up on How to Leave Town, which is the outtakes version of Denial too, and I just like it as a concept.
Joe Goes to School – The conclusion is wrapped up into a nice shiny horse metaphor for your pleasure. “It was just a horse, I couldn’t tell if it was sad or not” is the pinnacle of trying to be poetic about terrible things that are happening to you and giving up about it and recognizing that they’re not even that big of a deal. You have to bike away and stop being an embarrassing poet in public. Go back to school, for fucks sake. It’s not that Joe’s, and by default Will’s problems aren’t a big deal, since I don’t know his life, just that it’s a damn good microcosm of the record. The melody for this song is taken from “the ghost of bob saget,” which while an excellent song is pretty difficult for me to tie in here metaphorically. It’s entirely possible that it’s a really good riff but just was originally used for a song about a comic called “Asscastle” which in turn is about sucking ghost dick.
Okay, time for notes! The “Hometown Hero” side (side A) is a lot easier to look at laid out than the “Cosmic Hero” side (side B), since the lyrics are clearer about real events from a first person perspective. “Joe did acid and has to reflect on how terrible his life is going” is a lot easier to understand than, say, any part of “Connect The Dots.” I also totally get what Will was saying about this being a self-centered record now, which sunk in around the fourth time I started to write ‘he’s complaining about himself again.’ Track-by-track analysis definitely pays off more when you’re trying to sound like a professional with a blog. There is also a lot more that I really need to do individual columns about, since it looks weird if “Costa Concordia” gets three paragraphs but “Joe Goes to School” is just a really long Lamezone joke. Oh well.
Oh boy, I need to write more. This wasn’t about Twin Fantasy but in conclusion: https://twitter.com/carseatheadrest/status/958448026900508672