tremble clef

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Marc Almond featuring Sarah Cracknell, "I Close My Eyes And Count To Ten" (2007)

Written by Clive Westlake, "I Close My Eyes And Count To Ten" is a song about how the experience of finally finding your soulmate is incredible, in both senses of the word: wonderful, but also, more literally, unbelieveable. "Never before have I been so sure," a pivotal line goes, "You're the someone I dreamed I would find." But if the singer is "sure" that she has found her beloved, she is simultaneously skeptical, even terrified about what she goes on to characterize as a "feeling so unreal/Somehow [she] can't believe it's true." The terror and disbelief arise because this man is the man of her dreams -- but that must also mean that he may be "only a dream," fleeting and unreal.

So: she closes her eyes and count to ten. When she opens them, he's still there. But the doubts seem to persist -- through another verse, and then another. Each is followed by a chorus in which she closes her eyes and counts, and counts, and counts... But to what end? If she opens her eyes and he's gone, he was a dream, though her life without him would then be a nightmare. If she opens her eyes to see him, then he is the man of her dreams -- and therefore always liable to disappear the next time she closes her eyes and counts to ten. That's why the song, which is hence perfectly posed between dream and nightmare, has always struck me as dark and gloomy. Perhaps it overstates the case a little, but that chorus is almost straight out of a slasher horror movie: I close my eyes, and count to ten, and when I open them maybe the monster will be gone. In a sense, there can be no real resolution, once she recognizes the Catch-22 situation she's in. She can only count, over and over, as the song fades out...

In the original 1968 version of the track, by Dusty Springfield -- which Neil Tennant once claimed was his favorite Dusty recording -- the point of the song is brought across by Dusty's voice, which clearly alternates between wonder and terror. When she shifts into the line, "it's the way you make me feel," for instance, you can hear how lovestruck she is, and, for a moment, wondrously happy. But as the song builds, through the refrain and towards its chorus, she sounds more and more palpably anxious. A 1983 recording by Tracey Ullman is surprisingly effective as well, although she opts to sound more uniformly tremulous and zombified throughout. Dusty's reading makes it sound like she is coming to a realization as the song progresses; Tracey's narration, in contrast, sounds retrospective, since she appears to have abandoned all hope right from the start. If this interpretation shows that Tracey is less of a versatile and fluid singer than Dusty (duh), it at least demonstrates that she is well and truly aware of the dark heart of the song.

The latest version of the song is a duet between Marc Almond and Saint Etienne's Sarah Cracknell. That the track has now been transformed into a duet on one level reduces its impact. While solo versions, such as Dusty's or Tracey's, allow us to remain unsure whether the singer is addressing a dream man or a dreamed-up lover, here we seem to have inconvertible evidence for the presence of two people in love. They're real, all right. Indeed, the newest version constitutes the chorus as more of a call-and-response, a plea for affirmation that is immediately affirmed. "I close my eyes and count to ten/And when I open them you're still here," Marc sings. And Sarah echoes the process, but also confirms Marc's exclamation by that very echo: "I close my eyes and count again/I can't believe it but you're still here." The Marc and Sarah show is, comparatively speaking, a much happier one. Only comparatively speaking, though: the song is so masterfully written then its despair shines through no matter what, and at least Marc and Sarah are wise enough to retain the elements of the classically sad arrangement: that spine-tingling opening piano, as if coming to us from some ghostly 1920s dancehall. The "dun-dun-DUN!" stabs that transition us between verses. The inexorable build-up towards the melodramatic chorus. And it even adds a few elements of its own: the frenzied string arrangement that takes us out of the song, not new, but more prolonged and foregrounded. And most of all, the haunted way Sarah whispers, in that same outro, with equal amounts of delight and fear: "you're still here, you're still here..."


  • I do love those strings at the end. Good for Marc and Sarah is one of the few women in pop worthy of him.

    By Blogger xolondon, at 8:53 PM  

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