tremble clef

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Bertine Zetlitz, "500" (2006)

On a recent but already-famous episode of Kathy Griffin's My List On The D-List, which I've been dutifully watching while here in the US because I'm often too gay to live, our protagonist gets to meet her fans backstage after one of her gigs in Virginia. The one who gets the most airtime is an Asian-American doctor, and he deserves it because, when he meets Kathy, he totally, how you say, FAGS THE HELL OUT. What a scene. While one hand clutched my splitting sides, my other hand was held over my eyes, since I could barely stand to watch the good doctor scream like a howler monkey and offer to give Kathy a free pap as a way of showing his fandom. Oh lord, I thought, some people can be so undignifed.

Well, look away, because I'm quite excited about the return of Bertine Zetlitz.

My love of Ms. Zetlitz has only increased since I pitted her in a deathmatch with Annie and her previous album Rollerskating went on to become my favorite record of 2004. The new long player, My Italian Greyhound, is due Sep 11, but its first single hit her native Norwegian streets yesterday. "500" is therefore being released far ahead of the album, which I immediately took to be a good sign: I imagined that she and producer Fred Ball (aka Pleasure) laid down a track so strong and catchy that she couldn't wait for the rest of the album to be finished before she put out the single.

For me "500" is indeed a stonker, though it's also surprisingly unconventional. Unconventional as a pop track, that is: within Bertine's own oeuvre "500" bears some resemblance to "Ah-ah" in the way it's mostly rhythm and groove, although melodically it also reminds me somewhat of one of Rollerskating's highlights, "Wicked Wonderboys." But compared to what elsewhere passes as a pop track, and against the expectation I've mentioned that this would be a "classic-shaped" pop single, "500" is not very conventional at all.

There is, most strikingly, not much of a distinction in the song between verse, chorus, and middle eight. For instance, what arguably serves as the middle eight (at the 1:42 mark) is in fact just the verse and chorus repeated, but with the backing track all but dropped out: a neat demonstration that the song relies more on variations in groove to create structure. Otherwise, there are two, perhaps three main parts to the song: in one Bertine sings various lines built around the title phrase (though the second time around the refrain changes to "600"), while a second section simply consists of the lines "You've been on my mind/Suddenly gone blind/You've been on my mind." Not that it ultimately matters, but I'm inclined to agree with Edward over at EBM (from where you can also get the mp3) that the latter is probably the chorus, since, as he puts it, "the bass cuts deeper." I would add that "you've been on my mind" functions a little more like a chorus, despite not having the title phrase, because it's where Bertine does her trademark doubletracked vocals, which I can never listen to without feeling my heart leap out of its designated cavity. Furthermore, those lines, when they appear for the second time, are followed by a woozy synth riff. It sounds a little bit like the break from Andreas Johnson's "Glorious," and gains more and more prominence as the song progresses, to the point where it too competes to be the main feature or chorus of the song. All of which is a long-winded way of saying: everything's a catchy hook in this track.

Perhaps the blurriness between chorus and verse in "500" serves a function. The lyric is somewhat elliptical, but seems to be from the point of view of a fan who alternately despises the object of her adoration ("600 for a letter from your fanclub/600 though you probably want more/600 cause you kept it in your bathtub/600, boy I heard it all before") and worships him or her ("You know I have been sweet on you forever/That's why I have been stealing all your stuff/5, 500,000 worth of clever/You see I can't ever get enough"). Literally stuck between love and hate, what we're calling the chorus is therefore perfectly poised between being filled with yearning, and perhaps with stalkerish, murderous intent: you've been on my mind. You've been on my mind. The track's coyness about traditional pop structure, or the structure of pop -- what's verse? what's chorus? -- may be a way of reflecting the lyrical subject matter, in which our narrator, in a state of frenzied fandom, fails or refuses to distinguish what our crushes owe us, and what we deserve to get from them.

As I was saying: oh my god, Bertine, I love you aieeee-aawwww-ooooeeee-aaaahhhh-eeeeeeee. Call me!

Edit: If you haven't watched the "500" video over at Bertine.com, you should. You'll see why I am willing to turn for her, although, judging from the All About Single White Female Showgirls video, in which Bertine kills with a single phallic thrust and then gives birth to a cute little greyhound through that same appendage, I would have to turn lesbionic.

5 Comments:

  • There hasn't been a song this slinky since Karen Kamon's "Manhunt." I still don't get the "Sometimes I hear you even get a refund/In that way it is impossible to lose" bit, though.

    Is there any poptastic song that *isn't* about obsession, by the way?

    By Anonymous esque, at 4:45 AM  

  • Maybe the lines refer to paid subscriptions? I'm obviously fixated on the idea of being about fanclubs.

    I'm a little scared that your logic suggests that Animotion = Best Pop Group Ever.

    By Blogger Brittle, at 10:46 AM  

  • You said middle eight! Must be 600 for the subliminal advertising.

    I saw that ep of Kathy Griffin and that guy made me mute the TV. I can't deal with all the instant intimacy fans throw at their idols. I get it, but I would not DO it. She can handle anything though...

    Am downloading this now, before bed.

    By Blogger xolondon, at 11:12 AM  

  • You said middle eight! Must be 600 for the subliminal advertising.

    I saw that ep of Kathy Griffin and that guy made me mute the TV. I can't deal with all the instant intimacy fans throw at their idols. I get it, but I would not DO it. She can handle anything though...

    Am downloading this now, before bed.

    By Blogger xolondon, at 11:13 AM  

  • Oh, I love thinking about middle eights. And saying that phrase, or its alternative, "refrain." Although that Pay TV song would have been a hell clunkier as "Middle eight, middle eight, from repeating it again..."

    By Blogger Brittle, at 11:26 PM  

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