Birds are Better (Stian Fjelldal) is dropping one song a month from his forthcoming album ‘The Island – Part II’ and while we won’t be able to feature all of them we will do with the occasional one as he regularly throws down a challenge to the willing reviewer.
The previous one, ‘The Plan’, was a convoluted affair in that the meaning wasn’t clear and ended up bamboozling me. It turned out to be part of a concept album written years ago, concerned “a troubled seabird” and could only be understood within the parameters of the full album.
This one, ‘The Loop’ is, he says, “a bit more straightforward and open for interpretation” but he provides some back story anyway, just to be sure. In the album the protagonist has lost his marbles across the preceding final songs and starts questioning the purpose and will of God. It is the final track on the album.
Now this attracts me immediately. Latterly I’ve become a big fan of the American singer-songwriter Weyes Blood, who named herself after ‘Wise Blood’, the philosophy of innate, undefeatable worldly knowledge adopted by Hazel Motes, the central character of the 1950’s Flannery O’Connor America Southern dark gothic novel of that title, who returns home from World War 2 and inspires the formation of an anti-religious ministry, “The Holy Church of Christ Without Christ”.
An arcane, abstract notion you might think, and listening to some of Birds are Better’s songs you can easily be led along a similar path. Indeed I’d like to see him write a song about Hazel Motes.
Anyway, in this case the protagonist finds he needs some purpose in life, and decides to become the hero of the story. But as with all heroic dramas, hubris lurks in the background.
He starts to enjoy his newfound role too much. His view on what it actually means to be a hero gets more and more nostalgic, and he starts picturing himself as the stereotypical American idol of the 50s and 60s – with the astronaut as the foremost archetype.
The delusion of grandeur is complete when he actually believes that the loop of life with atoms and stars could be some kind of comfort for the loved ones he leaves behind, echoing the journey made by Bowie’s Major Tom and 2001 – A Space Odyssey’s astronauts Poole and Bowman, none of whom returned, one of the latter two floating in space for eternity while the other entered the Stargate and discovered the origin of the universe.
Our hero must have had a transfusion of that wise blood.
If you think I’m rambling here it’s because Stian Fjelldal has a way of conjuring up words and ideas that transport you to these far out places rather easily.
In his character’s case,
“In the far distance/I can see something blue/My baby is lost/On the planet I once thought I knew”
(which offers several options for interpretation).
Musically it starts off like a nursery rhyme and ends up sounding like something early Yes might have overlooked for an album, complete with a Jon Anderson-like vocal.
One of his main attributes is this ability to generate images in your mind, as if he’s playing and singing in 3D.
This is the first song on which he has done everything himself – writing, composing, recording, producing, mixing and mastering, publishing and promoting. It’s a DIY space mission.
He should do it more often.
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