Friday, March 19, 2010

"Family Happiness" from The Coroner's Gambit (2000)

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"Family Happiness" is a road song from a lyricist who has written his share of such gravel-on-wheels numbers, only this time the road is paved with suspicion, paranoia and imminent violence. Although the long-gestating The Coroner's Gambit represented a subtle step toward the polish and high fidelity of 2002 masterpiece Tallahassee - a handful of songs were actually recorded in a studio and included strings, electric guitar and other instrumentation - "Family Happiness" mostly follows the sparse musical blueprint Darnielle has relied on throughout much of his career. Built around a pounding acoustic guitar and the singer's manic-pace vocals, the track showcases Darnielle at his most lyrically biting and observant.

It is perhaps the darkest song on an album defined by an overt sense of fatalism and a fixation with death. A concept album of sorts loosely held together by an overarching biblical storyline, Gambit presents the listener with a series of lives on the skids and "Family Happiness" undeniably fits within the album's overall tone. Driving in the dead of night somewhere along the Canadian border, its narrator comes across as wild-eyed and several degrees beyond pissed off. The song unfolds like an ugly examination of a relationship in complete shambles, accompanied by the types of subtle narrative details that make Darnielle's music so compelling: a passenger incomprehensibly mouthing Tolstoy into a recorder, "innumerable evergreens," a few impotent pot-shots that won't make a damn bit of difference in the long run ("I mouth my silent curses at you"), the type of resignation that should feel melodramatic but somehow works ("I hope the stars don't even come out tonight/ I hope we freeze to death.")

"Family Happiness" is equally notable for the details it leaves out, a quality that has always separated Darnielle's story-songs from those written by less talented lyricists. We never find out who the narrator is or who he's doing battle with - hell, maybe it's himself - nor do we know exactly how this drive will end. Darnielle's intense vocals on the line "do what you brought me out here for" are impossible to miss though, and it's clear this rotten Canadian trek sure as hell won't end well for at least one person. In an album littered with songs about loneliness and desolation, "Family Happiness" ranks as The Coroner's Gambit's most jarring and memorable track.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hello. And Bye.