Wednesday, 16 March 2016
No Apologies For The Infinite Radness 1.1.9 - "Brick" (Ben Folds Five)
"Certain songs, they get so scratched into our souls" - The Hold Steady, "Certain Songs"
"Morons here - this is obviously a song about a brick" - Youtube comment
This is going to be difficult. "Brick" is just too familiar to describe. Other songs in this chapter reached me earlier in my life, but none of them became so much a part of me as this one. I've listened to it again and again this week, trying to work out how to talk about it. But it's just in too deep. "Brick" is simply "Brick". It's like a police sketch artist asking you to describe your mother's face.
Maybe it's the simplicity, too. Darren Jessee's drumming, already minimalist, barely registers. Robert Sledge's bowed double bass adds texture, but the song played live demonstrates how little it ever needed to rely on anything but Folds. The song's strengths lie in simplicity and understatement, a man hit by a memory whilst sat in front of his piano.
It's not a common style for Folds, especially when references to his relationships are concerned. It doesn't take much time wandering through his body of work to see most commonly he reaches for earnest tales of love and contentment or bitter broadsides at old lovers. The latter tend to be dressed up as tongue-in-cheek hyperbole, not to be taken seriously. Like a bottle of whisky or an old saw, though, you can wrap it up for Christmas but the receiver will still know what they're getting. Folds has been accused of melodic misogyny more than once, and the charge has no small weight to it.
Perhaps time had healed some wounds here, though. Folds is at his most enigmatic here, and as so often the case the vagueness provides our way in. The basic sentiment of feeling completely out of step with everyone else and what they think you should be feeling is universal. Being miserable on a national holiday, the exhaustion of spending every day pretending things are other than what they are; can anyone not have been there? The line "Now that I have found someone, I'm feeling more alone than I ever have before" has hit me particularly hard during more than one failing relationship. And whilst hearing Folds plan "to sell some gifts that I got" has an extra sting when you learn he's killing time whilst his girlfriend is getting an abortion, no shortage of people will recognise the general feeling of wanting rid of those things others tell us we should be grateful for.
This feeling of stepping out of phase extends to the song itself. The band had recorded nothing like it before - in fact there was a loud backlash among fans at the time about how different it was, because people are awful - and never really achieved anything like it since ("Evaporated", from the same album, perhaps come closest). It proved a minor hit in the UK inside a musical landscape dominated by the last gasps of Britpop and imported grunge, and the early stages of dance music's self-parody phase. Nothing about the song fits in with its surroundings. It stands alone. It is the only brick in its wall.
And yet somehow, it keeps on holding people up.
B-side: a live track demonstrating how little Folds ever needed a bassist. The song has survived almost entirely without alteration since its arrival on Whatever and Ever, Amen, with the exception of a single lovely change at 4:54. You might want to start the vid at 0:44 to skip Fold's explanation of the song, or you might not.