Overkill just came on my Launch player at a truly appropriate time. The “For Sale” sign just went up in front of the house in which we’ve lived for five years. We bought it just before the wedding and moved in after the honeymoon. I remember sitting in the living room with a bunch of wedding presents in an empty house, completely giddy at the thoughts of the future.
And the future was indeed very bright. I changed jobs, and despite my occasional complaint, I’ve managed to put together a fulfilling run of work there. We made all sorts of home improvements over a three-year period, then welcomed Brendan last year. We’ve built so much within this house that I suppose we are indeed starting to outgrow it. (At the very least, we’re glad we’ve thrown out so much junk in the process of getting the house ready!)
Today, the feelings are more bittersweet, and the thoughts of the future are more clouded. We still have much to enjoy as a family. But the state of the country (in a word: anti-intellectual) leaves me quite depressed, and I don’t think it’s going to get better anytime soon. And in the short term, we’re doing a lot of work that is stressing us like high schoolers taking every final exam at the same time.
And so Overkill is the perfect soothing song to hear right now. It so perfectly captures the capacity we all have to wind ourselves up to a point at which we can barely function, and it does it with a melancholy sense of resignation. The melody and chord sequence in the chorus (“Night after night, my heartbeat shows the fear … ghosts appear and fade away”) are simply beautiful.
And yet, there’s a sense that this is all impatience, that these things shall pass. “I worry over situations that I know will be all right … it’s just overkill,” says Colin Hay in the first and last verses.
You’ll rarely find a song filled with more sympathy and hope, and they pull it off without any melodic cliches or vapid platitudes about life getting better. Frankly, a lot of Christian rockers ought to give this song a listen and then think about how they’re failing to come anywhere close to this sort of sentiment.
Speaking of Christian rock (and because I can never write conclusions to song reviews), has anyone heard Mindy Smith’s Come to Jesus? I heard it on my Launch player and saw it on VH1 (what was the last Christian song they played — Jars of Clay?) within a week. She’s not quite a Christian artist — Yahoo calls her “alt-country” — but this is undeniably a Christian song. But it’s a very different sort of religious song. Hand the same lyrics, which aren’t that remarkable, over to the Hee Haw gospel hacks (oh, so many childhood scars), and you’ll get some really bland proclamation about how everything will be all right. You might even be able to hand the same song, melody included, over to another artist and get a very different, far inferior interpretation.
Not here, and the primary reason is Smith’s sultry voice. She’s the queen of melodic misdirection, twisting the notes so that you often think you know where she’s going next, only to proven wrong. Sure, a hundred allegedly progressive musicians do the same thing, leaving fractured songs that appeal only to art students who specialize in concrete destruction. But she turns it into something beautiful and soulful.
(EDITED TO ADD) This isn’t just my music-major snobbiness coming across. Smith’s singing gives the song much more complexity than your typical Jesus tune. The lyrics imply that everything’s going to be OK as long as you’re with the Lord. Her voice and the song’s sparse setting show that it’s not so simple. You’re better off with Jesus, the song seems to be saying, but you’re still going to deal with some shit while you’re here on Earth. Your faith can make you stronger, but it might not make your life easier. It’s almost as if she set out to make Christian rock for Catholics.
I’m not sure I’d recommend it as a must-have song. But it’s one of the best vocal performances I’ve ever heard. In terms of understated expressiveness, it makes me wonder what I ever saw in Mazzy Star. She blows Hope Sandoval away, no contest.
Anyway, the cleaning folks are gone. Back to the housework. Somehow, I’m feeling a little better about it now.