Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Cilla Black - Conversations (1969/ No. 7/ 12 weeks/ Parlophone)

Another ultra-vulnerable imagined love song about the carapace of self that we armour ourselves with. And another song by Cook & Greenaway, too! You know the sort of thing that I like, dear reader...

It starts with a barrage of questions, asked in a tone both hesitant and a bit blank;

Do you come here often?...
Have we met before?
Tell me your impression now...
Could you like me more?

Then, a little more assertively;

Could you even LOVE me?
Is it too early to tell?

Back down again, for where we know in our hearts that this is leading towards;

Who am I foolin'?
When I know too well -

The conversation is, of course, only happening in her head; it’s the protagonist of 'How Soon Is Now?' explaining why she goes to a club on her own and she stands on her own – “Make a move?/Try to speak?/Raise my eyes from the floor?” Like someone who’s forgotten how to do it, or has never done it, "losing my patience /Forgetting the lines".

Two ways of reading this song, both unhappy. Sometimes I think that the loved other is a specific man. The singer spending too much time musing about things in the abstract, so that they become more intimidating, taking on a strange unhelpful life of their own, with her playing out every scenario in her head without ever giving the man the chance to play his part.

In this instance, at least he does exist as a person, a possibility, even if their history is one of hesitancy on her part ("When we meet, will I act like I've done before?... Say "Hello", nothing more").

The other way of reading this is that he is so provisional as to be an abstract in his own right, not even a specific distant crush, which seems to fit in with the mannequin figure that the protagonist sees herself as being, crushed by a series of rituals that she can't find herself fitting in with.

Crucial to this ambiguity, as with 'Surround Yourself With Sorrow' is the one non-specific line;

I've still got to meet him.
Yes, I've still got to meet him!

Defiance? Purpose? A knowledge that she must undergo what she knows to be torment, but will? Or - A consoling illusion that she will meet a 'him', one day? It's the point in the single where everything gets ratcheted up, with the arrival of backing singers and where Cilla starts belting the song out.

Either way, this is a compelling and uneasy song, brilliantly performed.

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