tremble clef

Friday, July 14, 2006

Candy Lo (卢巧音), "Anaesthesized (麻醉)"(1999)

The Pet Shop Boys must be simultaneously pleased and narked that the BBC used "Numb" a couple of weeks ago to soundtrack their montage of England getting booted out of the World Cup. (You've seen by now, no? If not, you're sorta out of luck, since YouTube has removed the vid. Except that it seems that the one embedded at Popjustice is still working.) Pleased, because it provides huge exposure for the track, huge enough that it might propel the song to #1 on the charts much as it almost did for Oasis after the 2002 World Cup. But narked, since the timing is off: while "Numb" may yet be a single, for now it's "Minimal" that is slated to be released in a few weeks. But that's been a typical PSB story, and I suspect they will soon start telling the tale of mis-timing as yet another example of how they usually get no breaks, even when they get the breaks.

"Numb" is interesting in that its words and music work at cross-purposes (a point that, believe it or not, I never explicitly made before now): while the lyric tells of wanting to feel emotionally dead, its music is hardly numb. (A more predictable route would have been to arrange the song in a trip-hop fashion, and indeed Portishead is the other band with a famous track named "Numb.") With its grand orchestrations, the music instead plays the role of the turmoil -- the world crashing down around -- which the narrator feels the need to escape from or deaden himself to. At least until the part when all the music drops out -- which, in the Fundamental interview CD, Neil calls the central moment of the song -- which is the track's moment of numbing.

While I've just called songs that are both about, and sound like, numbness more "predictable," this doesn't mean that I'm not partial to them. Perhaps my favorites of these -- and there are quite a few -- is Candy Lo's "Anaesthesized" (though "Numb" would be as good a translation). Candy is a popular Cantopop songstress from Hong Kong; it took her a few albums to define her identity, which is currently that of a quirky performer who sings well-crafted but commercial songs with experimental lyrics. "Anaesthesized" is from early in her career, and helped to crystalize that identity. It was first released in 1998 as a Cantonese number, with different words and the title "Trash." The following year it acquired a Chinese lyric, and it is this version I love.

The track compares love to being gradually put under. Each word that her lover says to her, and each gift he presents, is tainted, she later realizes like the heroine of some 40s melodrama, with anaesthesia. "Day after day I loved you/It accumulated little by little/I felt it was so beautiful to follow you/Until I saw you leaving me step by step/And I strangely had no strength to make you stay." The music swirls hypnotically, putting us, of course, in the exact same state of mind. "I didn't think you would leave so matter-of-factly/I didn't think I would be so numb/No desire to sleep/And unable to cry/I lie on my bed/Waiting for it to ebb." But it is finally unclear if this is unbearably cruel, or a kind of mercy: "It turns out that being thus anaesthesized/Is itself a kind of addiction/No desire no more for it to ebb."

(Yousendit sometimes has trouble handling tracks with Chinese characters. If so, try downloading what seems to be a title-less file, and then manually add the .mp3 suffix to it.)

2 Comments:

  • I have to admit that, on first listen, I thought this was too overwrought even for Douglas Sirk. But I'm liking it now. So which lyric is the chorus? Is it the "I didn't think you would leave so matter-of-factly" bit...? And is the "no desire no more for it to ebb" around 3:40?

    By Anonymous esque, at 5:32 AM  

  • Candy has a funny voice -- on some tracks it sounds crystalline, while on others it's a bit draggy and "cloudy" (on her most popular ballad, her voice sounded different on the Cantonese and Chinese versions, which is weird). Here it leans towards the latter -- she does sound a bit Beth Gibbons here -- but perhaps we could attribute it to the subject matter.

    The chorus begins with two lines I didn't translate, and then the "I didn't think...ebb" bit; you hear it first at 1:28, then twice more beginning around 2:31. The song then ends with her repeating the final two lines of the chorus melody, but now with the lyrical twist that she's addicted to the anaesthesia; that is indeed what you hear at 3:35.

    (The structure of the song is verse [0:30], bridge [at 1:08; the "day by day" bit], chorus [1:28], then bridge [2:14], then chorus twice [2:31], and the final coda [3:35]. This is typical of Chinese pop songs: they often drop the verse during the second iteration, or shorten it from one verse to two. Here she drops the verse totally and just uses the bridge. It's the Roxette principle, i.e., on the second go-round, don't bore us, get to the chorus!)

    < /boring muso >

    By Blogger Brittle, at 6:25 AM  

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