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Sat, 23 Feb 2008

"Catastrophe" and "Burn"

Time is running out, so tonight's episode will be a double feature. Rainer Maria's newest (2006) album is called Catastrophe Keeps Us Together. These two songs are "Catastrophe" (read the lyrics and download the song) and "Burn" (read the lyrics and download the song).

These were the two songs they released as previews in the year or so before they actually released the album. "burn-96kbps.mp3" ("First Malcolm mixes") was on their website as a preview for a long time, and "Catastrophe" (the album version) was on their website as a preview too. It's also the song they made the music video for the album out of. So I think Rainer Maria considers them flagship songs on the album. They're tracks 1 and 3 respectively.


"Catastrophe keeps us together," begins and repeats this song. It's also the name of the album. This is the first time that Rainer Maria named an album after a song on it. R.E.M.'s most recent album is the first time they did that, too. I hate to be harsh, but I do think both are the weakest shows so far from both artists.

To me, the song is musically strong but lyrically weak. It's vaguely political, asking:

Do you think we could go on forever
when the architects of the war
are handing out the swords?

But I don't really know what that means. It's as if that is mentioned to explain why "we", "the architects of the world," are "taking it all apart." I can't get a solid grasp on who "we" are. Catastrophe could keep us together if we're going to meet up in the afterlife (c.f., "I'm Gonna DJ at the End of the World" by R.E.M.), or if we're meeting up in this life to fight against those who created the catastrohpe. But there's a sense of leaving the world in "taking it all apart." Not to mention the varied imagery of how we are to find each other "at the end" (x3) of the world.

I've said before I've loved internal rhyme or repeated rhythms in Rainer Maria's sung lyrics. Sadly, this song doesn't get to pluck that string in my heart; the repetition of phrases like "I've got a plan" are easier than intelligent rhythmic tricks of older songs.

Since Chris poointed out that I was focusing on the lyrics, I've been trying to make some notes about the music too. All I'll say is that I really do like the music in "Catastrophe," and the sharpness of the repetitions of "at the end" and "how will you look" contribute to its validity as a head-bopper.


The "original" (read: early cut) "burn-96kbps.mp3" that I heard for a year before hearing the album version is quite a bit shorter. Recently I commended Rainer Maria on being able to stop songs before they drag on, and I'm sorry to see that they didn't use that ability here. "Burn" is four and a quarter minutes, but nearly the last full minute is repetition. They sing it that long in concert, too. Curiously, the "First Malcolm mixes" version I have is only 3:25, nearly eliminating that last whole minute. Curiouserly, the next song on the album is "Bottle", which makes its mark in 2 minutes, 26 seconds, and is no weaker for its short length.

Love starts out as as tyrannical fire led by Caithlin in this song, but in a later verse it is slightly softened to a sorcery. "Believing in her" is tantamount to loving her, but she -- did what, exactly? "Didn't know any better" supports the view that she could have requited the love but didn't see it in time. But "I let you down" implies that she could have acted differently.

I should look into this further, but I get the feeling that the use of simile ("is like a tyranny") and less-than-certain metaphor ("some kind of sorcery") is a much weaker literary style for this band than direct comparison and metaphor.

I really wish that the song's lyrics elaborated on the burning or the ways she let this poor person down. I hope that sometime during this blog, I can make a graph showing this song (and perhaps the album?) as a statistical outlier in how repetitive it is. I admit to loving some Rainer Maria songs with obscure but tragic lyrics, but here there's not enough hints dropped for me to feel as much empathy as before.

As with many Rainer Maria songs, I've built my own meaning. In a comparison to "Hell and High Water," I consider the chance that my variously daily failures are "let[ting] me down," and with too many of them I'll feel helpless and watch myself burn.

More to come

Yesterday I wrote, "Maybe I'm just a kid who wants easy-to-listen-to pop" out of Rainer Maria. Now you hopefully see that's not actually true. (-: You'll hopefully get the sense that while I'm not in love with this album, I'm still happy to have it. Look for more discussion of this album before this blog is over.

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