tremble clef

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Jane Birkin, "Waterloo Station"/"Living In Limbo" (2006)

When I first learned about Jane Birkin's new album, Fictions, for which she had corralled people like The Divine Comedy, The Magic Numbers, and Beth Gibbons to write, I was most excited to hear the number penned by Rufus Wainwright. And "Waterloo Station" is a pretty good effort. Rufus has written a lyric that is not just in Jane's voice -- referring as it does to the narrative arc of her life ("Many years ago I upped and left my homeland/To make my fortune far from England/Had to go far away, the furthest place/Paris, France"), often in punny ways ("Whistling a melody fit for Nelson") -- but one that fits the overall theme of the album, in which Jane thinks of her relationship to the idea of "home." And of course, it's always nice to hear The Kinks hummed in any track, even if Rufus and Jane have to diss a superior group in the process ("And of course I'll sing the song by The Kinks/And not the one by ABBA"). But I'll give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that they just mean that "Waterloo Sunset" is more relevant for the context.

The main weakness of "Waterloo Station," however, is in its melody. As anyone who has listened to Rufus knows, he has a tendency to stretch words out. It's one reason why his critics call him "overly theatrical," or, even more harshly, "whiney," since he often sounds like he stays on one word forever and takes it, with his voice, through a million wailing banshee turns. He's written "Waterloo Station" to be sung in the same fashion, but Jane's weary voice isn't especially suited for this style: she seems unsure of how exactly to phrase "so, soon" for example, or listen to the way she struggles to reconcile the fact that "ABBA" has too few syllables with which to fill all the notes of that melodic line.

Partly because of that, although "Waterloo Station" had a headstart, I've come to enjoy the preceding track "Living In Limbo" a little more. Written by Gonzales, the song, quite remarkably, seems to be a bookend to Rufus's track. Maybe this isn't suprising: as the arranger and coproducer of the album, Gonzales presumably had an overview of the whole record, and perhaps wrote "Living In Limbo" as a companion piece. It likewise refers, during a typically Birkin "cinematic" spoken bit, to rail stations. Furthermore, even though Rufus's track is the one that namechecks and interpolates a few bars of "Waterloo Sunset," the guitar line in "Living In Limbo" (at the end of the first couplets of every verse -- you can hear it at the 20 second mark, for instance) sounds like it too could segue into The Kinks' classic. And like "Waterloo Station" (and the Neil Hannon-composed "Home," which starts the album), "Living In Limbo" is likewise about home and the effects of never being there: "Packing, unpacking/Talking on skyphones/Meaningful contact is strained over time zones."

"Living In Limbo" additionally has a kind of unspoken tension that, for me, makes it even more intriguing. Although the song is ostensibly about the tedium of travelling, of always going places and never knowing home, it curiously has what feels like an undercurrent of joy. While the verses enumerate, with purposeful monotony ("Packing, unpacking...Packing, unpacking") and tautological pointlessness ("Waiting for waiters"), the exhaustion of being on the road and never belonging, on the chorus -- when she bursts into melodically-ascending lines about "Living in limbo/living in limbo/La la la la/Watching through the window" -- Jane sounds, if not happy, then at least content. If you're always stuck being away from home, or not even knowing where it is, then you can at least try to come to terms with the situation ("Living In Limbo") or dream, via a snippet of a melody that brings you back, in mind and spirit if not in body, of home ("Waterloo Station"). La la la la la, la la la la la, we are in paradise.


  • Very nice! I love the lyrics Rufus did for her. He needs to write for Marianne F.

    Anyway, isn't her daughter releasing a record soon. I am obsessed with Charlotte and want her to be Mrs. Xolondon. She's lovely and modern and smart.

    By Blogger xolondon, at 11:17 PM  

  • You love The Divine Comedy too, doncha? The first single from your future mother-in-law's album is the Hannon-penned "Home."

    By Blogger Brittle, at 6:07 PM  

  • I heard it once and didn't react - what do you think of that song?

    By Blogger xolondon, at 4:45 AM  

  • 'Waterloo Station' is a half-inflated spacehopper lacking the pressure needed to make it bounce. I've been listening a lot to The Kinks lately--The Village Green Preservation Society and Face to Face and the lyrics aren't allowed to pop the melody.

    By Blogger harvey molloy, at 8:09 AM  

  • "Home" seems to me one of the weakest tracks on the Birkin album, but then again I'm not a big fan of Neil Hannon.

    "Waterloo Station" does seem a bit lacking in bounce -- there's something snippet-ish about it, and maybe that's appropriate for the song: it's like it's only a wisp of a memory in the singer's mind.

    By Blogger Brittle, at 12:23 AM  

  • By Blogger Yaro Gabriel, at 11:45 AM  

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