Saturday, 8 December 2007

covered inglory #8 - absentee - 'my dead wife / you're the one that i want'

absentee pitch themselves somewhere between the maudlin restraint of current indie favourites the national and the the lavish melancholy of british veterans the tindersticks. their calling card is to inject a streak of bitter, black humour into this elegant mix, spicing their red-wine-sodden romanticism with references to alcoholic indiscretions and grubby toilet-sex.

both elements work together on 'my dead wife' from 2005's donkey stock ep. the first section is a barely coherent, mumbled fragment from the perspective of a mourner - "some kind of memory, you were beautiful, or at least that's what i recall ... i just need more time". it's subverted - but somehow made even more moving - by the song's sudden transformation into a somnambulant cover of the grease standard 'you're the one that i want'.

there's a seam of darkness in a lot of the sort of late 50s and early 60s pop records that inspired grease, and absentee tap into that tone here. the purity and innocence of their teenage emotions need very little alteration to come across as an unsettled, delusional single-minded statements of intent. phil spector's brassy, grandiose productions covered a weird, deranged, reputedly abusive temperament. many of the beatles' early songs of innocent devotion contain a vicious, possessive, misogynistic streak. in buddy holly's moral universe, favour and faithlessness are matters of life and death, or are at least for the line between sanity and unmitigated, unpredictable desperation.

innumerable am-dram productions of grease have bled any possible tension out of 'you're the one that i want', and to a great degree, absentee's cover works as broad, grim humour. but it also goes some way to reclaiming the weird falseness of the original, a late-70s pastiche sung by ludicrous non-school-age hollywood stars, one an aerobics instructor, the other a balding scientologist, for a middle-aged hen-party audience.

absentee - 'my dead wife'
(from donkey stock)

john travolta & olivia newton-john 'you're the one that i want'

previously on covered inglory

1 comment:

Jon Baines said...

"man this is one great tune! i digs Absentee big time"

Ben Baines