tremble clef

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Alison Moyet, "One More Time" (2007)

That Alison Moyet's new single can be described as "theatrical" should not surprise. Although she has only appeared in two productions, one of those occupied her in the time most directly preceding her new material: a play about two sisters called Smaller, costarring Dawn French. (Margaret Cho gushes about the play and its actresses here.) Alison in fact wrote three songs for the play -- "World Without End," "Home," "Smaller" -- and these will close out her forthcoming album, the aptly-titled The Turn.

The subtly amazing first single from that album, "One More Time," was therefore not composed for the play, but it nevertheless feels like it should be on stage, somewhere. The song isn't "theatrical" in the bad sense of the word: that is, it's not some overblown, melodramatic number that needs to be performed with jazz hands. But the song feels like it could be from a Pinter or Albee or O'Neill play about, say, marriage.

There are either two or three characters in "One More Time": it's hard to be sure because the lyric masterfully shifts between first and second person pronouns, but it's likely that our narrator is simply oscillating between being part of the scene and trying to detach herself from it. From this conflicted viewpoint, we get three moments that take place around one bedtime. In the first verse, she turns the light out, her eyes tired. In the next verse, presumably lying there in the dark, with her lover ostensibly next to her but also a world away, she can only think of the difficulties of the relationship. "If easy was on the cards/Then someone made it disappear/And he smiles/And even now you hate him/ Only now he wants you to/The liberties you take/For what he won't be giving you." Sadly, it's a situation that isn't alien: "That's what you do."

But the breathtaking chorus also tells us that it's a situation that our narrator is willing to put up with. The four lines of the chorus, simple but precise as a surgeon's knife, figure the relationship in transactional terms; love, it seems, is a tie of debts and credits. "If all that we make here is sorrow/And all that we get we just borrow/I'll still buy, so can we try/One more time?" For all that love costs, it still compels us. What else will we spend our currency on? The way Alison's voice lilts over the phrase "I'll still buy" is heart-stopping; hitting that first high note, and then two more monosyllabic ones, it expresses hope, resignation, despair, sadness, all at once. It makes it impossible to know if the song ultimately shows us a person who is masochistically in a relationship from which she derives little, or if she is right in being pragmatic about the compromises one must make to keep any relationship going.

But perhaps we find out, sort of. After two verses and choruses, the song seems to work its way to a conclusion; the strings swell and get more elaborate, and it seems like we will end at the 2:50 mark. But true to its title, the song comes back for one more go-round, and this time we are offered some hope. The light, for one, gets turned back on by him. "He turns the light on/Sits down where he watches you/Tells you he couldn't sleep/He had something to share with you." And instead of the impersonal "you" second pronoun that we got to conclude the first verse, this third verse admits: "That's what we do." If the unpleasant situation feels all too familiar, it is at least something that the two of them are in together.

Do they indeed share? (And if so, is it good stuff or bad?) Do they talk? Do they work things out? Did they (the song seems to know -- "he had something to share" -- but it's not telling us)? Perhaps. But that chorus, which I haven't been able to get out of my head, where it may stay as one of the most moving lyrics of the year, comes back around. "If all that we make here is sorrow/And all that we get we just borrow/I'll still buy, so can we try/One more time?/One...more...time."


  • YAY - this is the first thing I've heard from her CD.

    Check out her blog. It's kind of angsty!

    By Blogger xolondon, at 7:59 PM  

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