Friday, September 11, 2015

Final Songs: Taking Tiger Mountain

Hello and welcome to our new feature, Final Songs.

First, a word about Friday Random Ten. What happened to it? Well, the idea sort of lost its freshness for me. Or the format at least. I've wanted for a while to start a new project, looking at music in a slightly more in-depth way. And since I'm making some necessary changes in life now, it seemed like a good time to change this as well.

Final Songs has to do with endings, as you might guess. In particular, songs that end albums. What does/did the artist want you as a listener to come away thinking of at the end of the whole thing.

Of course, this question relies on the existence of albums, which is to say long-players that are meant to exist as a unit. A lot of LPs from the late forties till sometime in the sixties are loose aggregations of singles with some extra material, a circumstance that has returned in force in the digital era. Still, there are still musicians who keep the idea of an album sequence in their mind, so we may deal with them at some point.

Album: Taking Tiger Mountain (by Strategy) by Brian Eno

We climbed and we climbed,
Oh, how we climbed
My, how we climbed
Over the stars to [the] top

[Of] Tiger Mountain
Forcing the lines through the snow.
Okay, let's do this.

As you can see from the above, the lyrics are pretty brief. And the vocals don't start until 2:36, almost halfway through the song. The title track to Eno's Here Come the Warm Jets, also an album ender, had brought the vocals in even later. Even in his early solo career, when he'd done more in the semi-pop song format, Eno didn't really consider himself a singer/songwriter, it seems.

The musical bedding here is guitar and piano, no percussion to speak of,, but some wind effects. After a wild ride of an album, it's relatively sedate. You could almost call it mellow. But theres' some thing about this circular melody that can put you on edge.

And again, there are the vocals. Despite coming in late, they have time to repeat themselves a few times. Repeated fragments about climbing, and "forcing the lines" in the peak's snow covering. Which is sort of an ominous wording. The album as a whole is loosely inspired by the revolutionary dramas that Mao had allowed in China. The words here could suggest a revolutionary act (of violence?) but they sound more resigned that excited. The revolution can get to be a drag.


semiconscious said...

firstly, this's a great subject for a series of posts (tho it's likely gonna require a bit more effort than 'random 10' :) ). i've always thought of final album songs of being worthy of an extra bit of attention, to the extent their positioning as such (& as much as first songs) is usually a very deliberate artistic decision. when it's the artist making the decision, anyway :) ...

afa 'taking tiger mountain' goes, it's a wonderful song to start with. for me, it comes off as a couple things: as the finale to an extremely 'all over the place' collection of songs, it has a very soothing, calming effect, as tho even eno himself needed a break. it also, for me, seems like a song of remembrance, looking back nostalgically at some grand attempt to accomplish... 'something'... or maybe just something as simple as an older, experienced person recalling bygone years of youthful ambitious struggle?...

coincidentally, our always-in-shuffle-mode ipod just happened to hit on a perfect candidate for this kinda 'last song' consideration: 'combat rock's 'death is a star'. while a little strange, lyrically, it also has a lot of that same overall soothing, world-weary feeling to it...

Ben said...

That "when it's the artist making the decision" is a caveat of course. Sometimes the label makes the decision for them, among other forms of big boots dominance. First songs are an interesting topic too, whether or not I ever get around to it.

It's an album I really love all over the place. Once when I was making a mix tape for a friend I put "The Great Pretender" on it, and many of the songs constitute "you've got to hear this" moments. I like your characterization of this song as a pauses to step back, rest, reflect.

Now that you've put the idea in my head, the bee in my ear, there's a good chance I'll get to "Death Is a Star." It's very haunting now that I think of it, although I don't want to spoiler anything. :)