1. I Know It’s Over – The Smiths
As with Elliott Smith, or the Magnetic Fields, or Billy Bragg – it’s been an almighty feat not populating my whole love song list with the forlorn cynicisms of Morrissey [pictured] and The Smiths. That’s why it’s extra important then, that I Know It’s Over makes the cut. In the entire canon of his songwriting, no Morrissey lyric is as affecting and gentle as this; it’s one of Johnny Marr’s finer compositions too and brilliantly sequenced on the seminal Queen Is Dead right between the quasi-comedy bookends, Frankly Mr. Shankly and Never Had No One Ever. Beginning gently in acoustica res, and culminating in a slow-dancing jangle-pop explosion, the song follows a regretful Morrissey, sending his best wishes to a past love, now in love again. It’s the ultimate comment on the internal battle against closure when something you love dies, with just the right amount of humorous internal rhyming and pained falsetto to keep you curious about the sincerity of the event. The best version of this song, by far, came from the ephemeral Jeff Buckley – specifically a live recording that, after much bootlegging, became commercially available in recent years on an obligatory ‘hits’ compilation. Buckley – rejecting all wryness in favour of a beautiful, 100% impassioned, groaning rendition – injects something truly other into his performance; it’s one of the few times someone covers Morrissey and beats him at his own game. I haven’t however, included the Buckley recording on this list – with good reason too (if you can wait one more song)…
2. Grace Cathedral Park – Red House Painters
As anyone into marginal music will tell you, the adjective ‘depressing’ is applied lazily to a lot of bands. Part of your job as a card-carrying fan of these bands, is to explain why that’s wrong; why the music is ‘melancholy’, or ‘ironically sad’ or whatever. Red House Painters are a relatively new discovery, recommended to me by a friend, and nothing short of crushingly gorgeous. There’s no tiptoeing around it though – they’re depressing as you like. Brilliant though. If you’re unfamiliar with Mark Kozelek’s work, and you’re a fan of melancholia (The Smiths, The Cure, Echo and the Bunnymen etc.) I urgently encourage you try out Katy Song, Mistress or New Jersey. Like all of their music, Grace Cathedral Park is very slow, but its pretty, waltzing flavours are rarer qualities in the Painters’ catalogue. Over this slow-motion waterfall of cascading, chorus-laden guitars, Kozelek poetically considers the subject of his desires: “why are you like this? Why are you like this?” Its overlay of the disappointing and sad on images of beauty create an all-too familiar sensation of failed enjoyment; in his landscapes, you “can almost hear rollercoasters”; the sun’s out – and yet the narrator is bleakly aware that his companion is just temporary. Red House Painters create a complex sound – predicated on both summery melody and downcast, echoing textures however, it’s a sensation to explore with cautious regard to your own emotional frailty.
3. Je N’en Connais Pas La Fin – Jeff Buckley
Fun fact: I have never fully listened to Jeff Buckley’s album Grace. Not because I don’t want to, or anything like that – I just never got round to it. I was about to, about three years ago – when another album got in my way… Originally issued as a four-track 12” single in 1994, Buckley’s Live at Sin-é received a ‘legacy edition’ release in 2004, and was reissued as a two-disc, twenty-one track set, combining two live sets in a tiny New York café, running over two and a half hours in length. It’s an unbelievable album and Buckley’s live performances are magical – his showmanship and talent, both as a vocalist and musician, is truly exceptional. It’s also unabridged – you get all of Buckley’s impish skits between songs, an enormous contrast from the often-intense emotional effect of his playing. Needless to say, a cursory dip back into Grace afterward (as I have attempted) finds this live document to be totally superior. It isn’t just the rawness of the recordings that helps either – Live at Sin-é is peppered with exquisite cover versions, from such disparate sources as Dylan (If You See Her, Say Hello), Nina Simone (Strange Fruit), and Edith Piaf (Je N’en Connais Pas La Fin). As well as demonstrating Buckley’s influences, the covers offer him the opportunity to respond to the song in his own unique way, and none of these is so powerful as in the case of Piaf’s song. Picking both the rhythm and the waltzing, carousel-like melody of the sad chanson tune, Buckley demonstrates extraordinary capacity as a guitarist, before belting out a soaring, falsetto vocal – translated from French. I won’t say anymore. He’s firing on all cylinders here and it’s just the most perfect thing.