Brian Wilson was famously credited with saying he was trying to craft “teenage symphonies to God” with his more ambitious recordings with the Beach Boys. It’s a mix of the epic and the simple— “I’m picking up good vibrations,” or “God only knows what I’d be without you”—matched to complex music layered like a classical symphony.
Which leads me to one of my favorite recordings of the year (so far) is A.C. “aka Carl from the New Pornographers” Newman’s “Get Guilty.” Like most pop tunesmiths, Newman is frequently compared to Wilson, though he doesn’t seem to be quite as crippled by his melodic gifts. (A lot of these pop guys seem to go nuts trying to replicate that perfect hook that only they can hear and that’s always bouncing around their brains.)
Newman writes most of the Pornographers’ tunes, and while he shares Wilson’s gift for melody and for layering instrument on top of instrument, his lyrics have a tendency to be, at best, obtusely tuneful. Which is to say, the words make you go “what?” while you’re tapping your toes. (In fact, I’m convinced he comes up with crazy titles and choruses as a challenge. I mean, “Submarines of Stockholm?” “Like a Hitman, Like a Dancer?” “Drink To Me, Babe, Then?” “The Slow Descent into Alcoholism?”)
At first blush, this entry in the continuing series I have oh-so-cleverly dubbed “I Love This Song”—the majestic closing song “All of My Days and All of My Days Off”—sounds like one of those tongue twisters. While it’s easy to imagine a song called “All of My Days” being a toe-tapper, there’s nothing inherently melodic about it when combined with “All of My Days Off.” And to the song’s credit, it never combines the two into a single verse; instead, they come back-to-back, as if Newman is getting more (or less) specific.
What makes the song so amazing is that Newman finally abandons all of the lyrical weirdness and just goes straight for the heart. He isn’t much of a singer, but the slight wavering in his vocal performance here feels right for something this direct and nakedly emotional. Compared to past songs, it’s practically an open book. Lines like “go trip down the lane/take my name” makes its meaning pretty overt. (It just might be about getting married.)
But it’s the simple beauty of the repeating chorus—“and now I give you my days, all of my days,” which eventually transitions to “all of my days off”—that kills me. (And it’s definitely a Newman trademark to repeat a chorus more times than you think he should, and then he repeats it four more times and somehow it makes perfect sense.) The chorus reaches even greater highs when matched with the beautiful female harmonies, some lovely piano, and some whistling (!). Particularly at the end, when the background music fades out while the slightly rough-hewn voices repeat “all my days…” it’s glorious, a fully grown-up symphony to God that only an adult could possibly write. In under four minutes. Genius.
And if I ever get married—and that’s an industrial-sized if—this will be the song I dedicate to my wife.
“ALL OF MY DAYS AND ALL OF MY DAYS OFF” by A.C. Newman