Monday, 31 January 2011

OMD - Souvenir (1981/ No. 3/ 14 weeks/ DinDisc)


The crucial thing that it takes you years to notice is that its really a song without a chorus. Or rather, that the chorus is the chipped and distant keyboard melody, the one specific detail in the single that everyone remembers first.

Note also that the title occurs nowhere in the song, acting as a suggestion for the listener as to how they might approach this piece.

Its a song that works with a palette of emotions rarely evoked in pop; resignation, bewilderment and dislocation. There's nothing angry, or satirical, or horny about these moods. Instead we get loss and uncertainty as a quiet, meditative - and deeply personal - state of feeling.

It starts with a hovering choral drone, which doesn't go away for the next three and a half minutes. It sounds like the hum of machinery, and places the listener in an unfamiliar and solitary place. The vocals come from Paul Humphries, rather than the more excitable usual voice of OMD, Andy McCluskey;

It's my direction
It's my proposal
It's so hard
It's leading me astraaaaaaaaaaaay

(That 'astray' seems to go on forever, and become a part of the choral drone)

My obsession
It's my creation
You'll understand
It's not -
important -
now-ow

("It's not important now" on a falling inflection. No rhetoric, no grand emotion, just something gone adrift)

And then the melody again, an inexpressible, imprecise feeling. The wordless chorus.

An odd bridge of the drone, and a pat-a-cake drum rhythm that seems to be playing in another studio. So many echoes, so little happening in the foreground.

The second verse tails off into fractured interior monologue;

All I need is -
Co-ordination

I can't imagine...
My destination

My intention?
Ask my opinion?

No excuse

Its the thoughts and feelings of a man who has no idea what he's doing anymore, or why he's doing it. The last line is repeated twice, and again seems to last forever.

My feelings still remaaaaa-ain

My feelings still remaaaaa-ain

The feelings might remain, but the context is gone. The feelings have become souvenirs, a flickering guiding light, meaning everything, but something inexpressible to others and feelings that can no longer have any practical application.

It sounds like the reverie of somebody locked alone in an electricity generating plant.

All this in a top three pop smash! One of the most quietly unsettling songs I know.

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