As tangential as ever and slightly more sentimental, Cormac Duffy considers how music makes the mundane epic
Two existential queries of equal weight are plaguing my mind this fortnight. Firstly, can I escape the impending unemployment and general hopelessness that the graduate workplace and this column’s end present me? Secondly, how is the song Taylor Swift recorded for The Hunger Games taste-defyingly better than Arcade Fire’s contribution? Tragically, the topical ring-fence of this column means I’ll tackle the latter, and you’ll have to wait for my future autobiography, Will Criticise Music for Food, for the former’s solution.
Songs now seem to be picked for blockbusters based on how epic they are, a quality measured in the recently quantified and definitely real S.I. units of Dragonforces. Arcade Fire’s ‘Abrahams Daughter’ is not actually a bad song. It’s functionally tense in a plodding Hans Zimmer way, but it misses the band’s strength. The orchestral Canucks made their name turning the mundane transcendent, whether it’s the thoughts that grasp your mind in the backseat of a car, or the wish to escape the drudgery of suburban life. When they spin an interpretation of a Biblical tale, it recalls a rainy afternoon in listening to Michael Bolton. Such is this inverse relationship of subject and grandeur, that their inevitable concept album about making a cup of tea will be the soundtrack to battling dragons on top of a volcano in space.
In fact, a core purpose of music’s occasional epic nature is its ability to make our lives seem like more than the sum of their parts. It starts in the throes of adolescence. Hormones aflutter and intelligence at its lowest, all our minor woes feel like the alpha and omega and many reach for culture that validates that. Think the larger than life pomp of The Black Parade, or even the morose swooning The Shangri-Las perfected as the teen tragedy. As with The Hunger Games, it’s the obvious reason young adult novels offer a world where a heroic protagonist’s problems are the moody centre around which their world rotates.
We don’t grow out of it, however. For every battle-metal record or post-rock saga, there’s a Titus Andronicus dragging humdrum recession angst through civil war analogy on The Monitor or Mumford & Sons’ ill-defined rallying cries. I do a lot of unfocused thinking about music, and one of the few things I’m sure of is that, used right, it helps the day to day seem a bit more special, and a bit more tolerable. Lists of concept albums about unemployment on a postcard please.