Rival Schools: The Switch
ost of the reviews and articles about Rival Schools when they put out their sole album United By Fate focused on the band members’ backgrounds in various hardcore and post-hardcore bands, but I can’t say I’m familiar with Gorilla Biscuits, CIV, Quicksand, or any of the others. If you want a full list go hit up Allmusic or something. What’s important to me is that Walter Schreifels and his friends successfully crafted the only great loud, fast rock album of 2001, nobody listened, and as far as I can determine they just called it quits from there.
Actually, I was sorely tempted to write about most of the songs from United By Fate, and it certainly deserves its turn in On Second Thought; most of the tracks therein are blistering in their bitter heat and weight, and for an act who only got one forty-minute album out Rival Schools sure covered a lot of ground. “Used For Glue” is still the song I’d use to win converts, and the pinpoint “Travel By Telephone” is the one I listen to most, but while re-listening to the album I stumbled again on my favorite moment from one of my favorite songs, something I’d planned to write about four years ago.
“The Switch” is a story about two people running (in the desert, my mind insists, although a location is never given) from... I don’t know. They’re “holding the lost files,” they’ve got “A stolen suitcase full of your secrets,” there’s a “drop-off,” and they’re talking about picking up new identities and fleeing to Argentina, “if only the switch would come.” Industrial espionage? State secrets? Blackmail? It’s all left vague, but the primal, hammering desperation of the track drives home the mood. Two people are being chased. And if they get caught, they’re probably going to be dead.
The chorus is great, like every other track on the album, Schreifels belting out “One day / One far from we're in now / One day / We'll look back and laugh,” while one of the intricate, heavy guitars briefly sparkles and soars and the drums thrash. The middle eight is kind of neat, too, but what gets me every time is a brief aside during one of the verses. Right after discussing the suitcase, Schreifels sings in a heavy deadpan “Play innocent / We’re innocent.”
That’s it. That’s my favourite moment on the whole album.
Some explanation is in order, I know; this is how I picture the lines coming about in the story of the song.
It’s late in the day. They’ve finally been cornered somewhere in the desert. Their backs are up against the bottom of some dusty cliff, men with guns in a loose semi-circle blocking them off, the briefcase awkward in someone’s hand. The two are just resigned now; they’re going to be shot down like dogs. They’d been running for hours in the midday heat; they’re tired, and nothing seems real. It’s almost funny, now. They look exhausted. The men with guns aren’t saying anything, not doing much, just waiting.
There is no hope in their situation; they’re not going to get all that money. They’re not going to escape to a country where they can live the good life. All that effort, all that running, wasted. It’s Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid time. Bonnie and Clyde time. Wild Bunch time.
And so one turns to the other in full hearing of the men with guns and says, “How are we going to get out of this?” The other’s face cracks into a wry grin and he says, “Play innocent”.
There’s a pause, and the first man turns to the men with guns, briefcase heavy in his hand.
Two minutes later, roll credits.