Some people wanna fill the world with silly love songs. With apologies to Sir Paul--plenty of people, in fact. Up and down the radio dial, there they are: love songs. They pop, they hop, they indie rock; they balladeer, they bitch and moan; they keen in urgent tremolo alongside pedal steel guitars and tempt vocalists young and stupid (and old and stupid) to aim for high notes that could shatter glass. Get in a time machine and cruise the court of Henry II, kill all the wandering minstrels making up the idea of romantic love and probably nothing much would change. Back in the ol' 21st century, there would still be a lot of love songs.
So where--if one chooses to address the purple elephant in the room--are all the songs about hate? Hate songs, not to be confused with songs of angst, anger, contempt or dystopic paranoia, though those are the ones where the feeling flickers up now and then. Radiohead, for example, has turned its gaze upon the beast and flinched; it gleams between the lines of Eminem's touchiest rhymes and winks at you from certain Smiths and Smog songs. But leaving aside the MP3s no doubt available on Web sites leased to Aryan Nation and other, racially diverse, tribes of fanatics (and let's leave those aside--please), and the theatrics of guttural, all-but-unlistenable death-metal bands, especially the ones from Norway, no band or solo artist has really reckoned with hate's brutal mysteries; prowled into its blackness. Until the Delgados.
"Hate is everywhere, look inside your heart and you will find it there..." So sings Delgados' Alun Woodward on the eerily hummable, self-evidently Beatles-esque "All You Need Is Hate," a track from the Scottish band's recently released album Hate. No beating around the bush: The album's title alone is a hard-eyed challenge to the fans who flew to the Delgados on the gossamer wings of their 2000 album, The Great Eastern, and who spent the time since its release waiting for another album of radiantly sad and beautifully orchestrated uplift.
"We wanted to grab people's attention," explains Delgados bassist Stewart Henderson, speaking cheerfully from the Glasgow practice space where the band is gearing up for its first U.S. tour in more than two years. "We knew if we called our album Hate, people would respond to that. It was intended as a bit of a dare."
As Henderson recalls, the initial work on the album began when the band was asked to provide live musical accompaniment for a London exhibition of paintings by Joe Coleman, the American "outsider" artist known for his portraits of drifters, freaks, murderers, atomic physicists and celebrities from the dark side.
"It's very strange stuff--intricate sort of...pictorial biographies of people who have, oh, lived a life not of the accepted norm," Henderson explains, putting it mildly. "Some of the portraits we were asked to compose music for were of Ed Gein, the serial killer; Harry Houdini, Hank Williams--things like that. And since we'd never done anything like that before--never provided a score, never done anything purely instrumental--we went into it with a totally different attitude and way of working together."
Following the Coleman gig, Henderson says, the band found itself with roughly 40 minutes' worth of music that it really liked.
"We took certain elements of the score and started there," he says of the band's first forays into making Hate. "Which made the process automatically different for us than when we made The Great Eastern. That record--we went into the studio with some fairly simple, straightforward songs, and you could say that a lot of the orchestration was just embellishment, glue holding all the pieces together.
"But this time we began with the instrumentation, instead of, like, the vocal melodies," Henderson continues. "And we were much more organized right from the get-go about, you know, working the string arrangements in, the brass, the choral stuff. So the orchestration was more of an elemental part of the songwriting, you know."
Thus, Henderson notes, by the time co-vocalists Woodward and Emma Pollock went off and wrote the lyrics, the songs were essentially done. Henderson demurs from talking about the lyrical content too much, pointing out that Woodward and Pollock "do that alone," and saying that he has no idea and won't conjecture whether verses as scary as those on "Woke From Dreaming" and "The Drowning Years" were inspired by the music's darker textures or the Coleman show itself, or if they were generated from some private headspace occupied by the married duo.
"There were probably numerous influences," he guesses. "We wanted the music to push as many buttons as the lyrics, which is why we left them until last, and so--obviously--Emma and Alun drew from what we'd already done. But then," he goes on, "the music as I hear it isn't all that dark. I hear it and it sounds...euphoric. So I don't know where Emma and Alun were coming from, lyrically; we've honestly never even spoken about it, and I think I'd rather not know.
"But, for me," Henderson continues, "what I find exciting about the record is the way we offset this subject matter, you know, songs about child murderers and things, with sounds that are often very joyous and hopeful. I definitely realized that we've made a dark record, but I don't think we made a record that's bleak."
Henderson is correct: The shimmering timpani and other grace notes of the Dave Fridmann mode of music as technicolor dreamscape are what make Hate exciting; lines such as "bring on the screaming and I'll take your demons" and "we will kill if we need to" would be half as compelling against a backdrop of industrial noise or set to the tune of a half-dozen detuned guitars. As it is, Woodward and Pollock are like Hate's Hansel and Gretel stand-ins, wandering through an enchanted musical forest and making the chilling realization, over and over, that they're alone and there's a witch in the candy house.
Hate is, ultimately, thrilling because of the way it reignites our childhood sense of awe and despair in the face of evil--the evil around us, the evil inside. It is, in a weird way, a love song about hate: self-scrutinizing and alive to the world's mad and chilling brutality that adults have learned to accept, all too ready. An ode to the ugliness that makes us need beauty.
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