tylus Magazine's Seconds column examines those magic moments that arise when listening to a piece of music that strikes that special chord inside. That pounding drum intro; a clanging guitar built-up to an anthemic chorus; that strange glitchy noise you've never quite been able to figure out; that first kiss or heartbreak; a well-turned rhyme that reminds you of something in your own past so much, it seems like it was written for you—all of those little things that make people love music. Every music lover has a collection of these Seconds in his or her head; these are some of ours.
When JJ72 recently gave up the ghost amid record company bickering over their (still unreleased) third album, I wrote a blog entry noting the teenage nature of much of their work, in a slightly dismissive way. This was slightly unfair for two reasons. First, at the time that their self-titled debut album was written, they just about still were teenagers. Second, while it made for a somewhat oppressive and tiring album (too much unaccompanied screaming, too much bad poetry) the same infantile angst is a large part of what makes “Snow” great.
If you haven’t heard the album, then imagine if Muse’s formative influence was Nirvana rather than Queen. Everything is focused on the precocious frontman, Mark Greaney, and rightfully so. He’s armed with a huge personality and an unbelievably high-pitched wail. But while there is a whole lot of drama, there is little flabby or showy musically—songs are kept as simple and direct as possible.
“Snow,” like many, starts off prettily. There’s a warm hum of feedback and a calm verse, all light strumming and sweet falsetto. And then, of course, the guitars turn immediately to a brittle, aggressive buzz as the chorus roars in. The thing is: none of their other songs have a chorus quite like this. No others reach out to all the moments in youth when you were promised something to look forward to, be it a day out or treat or, yes, a chance to go throw snowballs at people, only to have it taken away by forces outside of your control or comprehension.
“Why won’t it snow / Like they said it would?” is the impassioned demand. Never does Mark Greaney’s helium yowl seem quite so appropriate, coming off as roughly equal parts unhinged madman and tantrum-throwing toddler. At very first listen it comes off as almost comedic, and certainly unexpected, but the sheer force of feeling behind the words stills this soon enough. The next line (“What is it that they know / That I really should?”) is sliced in two with a sharp pause after the first three words, the wall of distorted guitar breaking for long enough to disrupt the previously consistent rhythm and adding even more crushing weight to “What is it” than Greaney’s intensity and the drum hits that accompany each word. One simple question becomes a railing cry against everything in the world that doesn’t make sense, everything that isn’t fair. It’s difficult to imagine anything more juvenile than that, but it’s difficult to imagine any song better capturing the feeling of confused outrage.
It’s a great portrayal of childhood and the way that the smallest of things can seem like world-shattering betrayal when you don’t yet have the means to understand them. More and more, though, I get something more from “Snow” than just the joy of hollering uselessly at the void. Because, lurking in the finer details, there’s the gradual realisation that it’s an outlook that won’t, and can’t, last forever. Mark Greaney may throw himself into the chorus with everything he has, but there’s a qualifier at the end of each verse. “Children go cursing at their only cause.” He isn’t one of them, not any more.
By: Iain Forrester
Published on: 2006-10-04