But I Can't

April 17, 2010 11:53 AM

Music: Dundee. Words: Auden. Stripped to the bare bones - I shall probably hate this in a few days' time.... Offered with apologies to one of the greatest poets of the 20th century and the many admirers of his work.

I suspect this needs more time on the mix - it perhaps lacks a little sparkle and a touch more embroidery might be called for. The octave intonation on my Strat needs attention too (slightly flat). But I kind of like this in an 80's synthy way. Whatever. I was going to ask Flapjax if he'd overdub some of his Vietnamese twangulator in places, but I lost my nerve...

But I can't

Time will say nothing but I told you so,
Time only knows the price we have to pay;
If I could tell you I would let you know.

If we should weep when clowns put on their show,
If we should stumble when musicians play,
Time will say nothing but I told you so.

There are no fortunes to be told, although,
Because I love you more than I can say,
If I could tell you I would let you know.

The winds must come from somewhere when they blow,
There must be reasons why the leaves decay;
Time will say nothing but I told you so.

Perhaps the roses really want to grow,
The vision seriously intends to stay;
If I could tell you I would let you know.

Suppose the lions all get up and go,
And the brooks and soldiers run away;
Will Time say nothing but I told you so?
If I could tell you I would let you know.

W.H. Auden October 1940

posted by MajorDundee (8 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

posted by Zenabi at 1:35 PM on April 17, 2010

that's sweet. like the space in it - reminded me of late john martyn (the good bits). very nice guitar - you sound like you mean what you play. i'd like to have heard real drums in there, but i'm sure you would too...
posted by peterkins at 4:18 PM on April 17, 2010

Thanks guys.

peterkins - never ceases to amaze me how differently we all hear things. John Martyn would never have entered my head (I'm flattered, naturally). I'd like to hear this with a double bass instead of the synth.......and, as you say, real drums. Although whether it would work without the percussion I synthesised (three kick drums on this, in stereo) is a moot point. This thing is so sparse that it only just holds up - so without the force of those multiple kicks (and a shedload of compression) it might fall on its arse. I wasn't totally happy with the guitar sound in general or the solo to be honest - the first few bars are acceptable, but it kind of loses rhythmic and harmonic focus after that. And one crucial chord is slightly out of tune (which is down to an intonation problem that I couldn't be bothered to fix on the spot). But the main deal with this - unusually for me - is the vocal, and, in the end, it's just another demo. Onwards and upwards!
posted by MajorDundee at 4:41 PM on April 17, 2010

Afterthought: Pure Sting
posted by Zenabi at 1:39 AM on April 20, 2010

I had to listen to this a few times before I started to hear the guitar as the main idea / instrument. Maybe it's the triple BD, or counter-intuitively the sparse arrangement w/ upfront vocal (and "special" lyric), but the slight and steady changes in the guitar chords really deserve the harmonic forefront in this song. It's a very interesting progression.

Maybe the melody could "outline" the chords a bit more, to lead the listener towards those harmonic intricacies?
posted by abc123xyzinfinity at 9:04 PM on April 21, 2010

Thanks for your interesting comments abc. The guitar isn't intended to be the main idea at all. Its role is to back the vocal, but also - with those abstract chords - to colour the mood in unexpected ways. Which I think it does, and so it fulfils its intended role in the track. Although it did cross my mind afterwards that perhaps I should have introduced it - or at least the chord abstractions - a bit earlier. But........I tend to have a window of 2 or 3 days after I've "finished" a piece when I still have enough enthusiasm for it to start messing around with mixes and fresh recording. After that, I can't get up for it unless it's exceptional. This isn't.
posted by MajorDundee at 11:45 AM on April 23, 2010

My early thought was "Sting," but by the end of the song I'd revised that to "with a side-order of Leonard Cohen." Really. And I think this song is better than you think it is.

I'm pretty picky about intonation most of the time, but the slight mistunings here don't spoil anything for me. I mean, if you come back to this song for an album or something, yeah, you should tune better and brush up the solo. But it's atmospheric as it is, tuning and all. It's what I wish were playing in the club in Berlin in Wings of Desire, instead of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. It would fit right in there, poetic and a little grimy and ever so slowly self-disclosing.

Let the guitar and the chords appear where they appear; the business of showing off everything you've got in the first verse, you can leave to Katy Perry. Good music has an arc.

Now, what I came here to say, actually, is that I'm really fascinated by the structural treatment, the parsing. How the semi-conversational melody line lets you get through iambic pentameter, without being overrun either by its internal rhythm (so insistent and un-songlike) or by the four-beat line (which has been bog-standard since before the Anglo-Saxons moved to Britannia). How breaking the ABA tercet into an ABxA quatrain lets the poetic refrain also be a miniature musical one, and the wonderful sense of space that the short lines give it. How you took the large-scale structure of the villanelle as I am accustomed to thinking of it (namely, an introduction, four body tercets, and a volta before the quatrain), and cross-cut it into a very suitable song structure (three pairs of verses, delineated by a short interlude, with solo for a volta before the third pair and a short vocal coda after). It's all quite masterfully done. I don't know how this song strikes people who aren't poetic-form wonks, but me, I was on tenterhooks straight through, waiting to see what you'd do with each structural problem, and you nailed every one of them.
posted by eritain at 2:25 PM on September 24, 2011

I just spent a lonnnnnnnng time trying to find this again, so this comment is to add/repeat some of the terms I searched for: Villanelle. Berlin. Marion. Wim Wenders. Crime & the City Solution. The Heavens Over Berlin. Villanelle. Berlin.
posted by eritain at 7:09 AM on July 18, 2018

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