Sunday, November 20, 2016

A Fitting Enz To Belinda's Solo Debut AKA Stuff And Awesomeness

If someone paid me a dollar for every time I heard a love song which featured sentiments such as "Our love will last forever" or "We'll be together till the end of time," why, I'd ... probably spend my time doing something other than blogging about '80s music, I can tell you that much. My point is, most relationships generally don't last "forever," and if you really stayed with someone until "the end of time," then you would be immortal, and ... who cares who your partner is, what's it like to be immortal???

Seriously though, I get it. It's a nice sentiment. You're saying that you really love somebody a lot. But it's not ... realistic. Feelings come and go. People form a connection, but that connection often fades. Most love songs aren't very realistic. Maybe they shouldn't be. But in 1979, Tim Finn wrote one of those rare love songs that strikes me as surprisingly honest.

"Stuff and Nonsense" was an album track on Split Enz's Frenzy. Remember Split Enz? You know, the guys from the Fatty Foods Party? Well, when he wasn't crashing depraved L.A. New Wave all-girl slumber parties, Tim Finn was writing love songs from a decidedly cautious perspective:
Disobey my own decisions
I deserve all your suspicions
First it's yes and then it's no
I dilly dally down to you, oh
But I've got no secrets that I battle in my sleep
I won't make promises to you that I can't keep
Promises that you can't keep? I mean, there goes the plot of every romantic comedy ever. But it's in the chorus where he really subverts prevailing teenage notions of lifetime entanglement:
And you know that I love you
Here and now, not forever
I can give you the present
I don't know about the future
That's all stuff and nonsense
Whoa, that's like ... Buddhist. The power of Now, man. He's not saying that he won't love her in the future; he's just saying that he doesn't know. Because nobody knows. And anybody who says they do know ... is lying.

It was a nice album track. But just as Tim Finn couldn't have known what the future held in store for his romance, he couldn't have known what the future held in store for his composition. Fast forward seven years. Belinda Carlisle needs a closing track for her solo debut. She's just married the man of her dreams. Could she pick a song with lyrics that say she'll love Morgan Mason "until the end of time"? Sure. But that's not how Belinda rolls, baby.

I couldn't say who or what inspired Finn to write "Stuff and Nonsense," be it his significant other, his orthodontist, or his cat, and it's not like he sounds insincere when he's singing it. But it's hard to believe that Finn didn't somehow know that he was unconsciously writing this song for Belinda to sing ... seven years later! Despite the supremely non-Californian ring of the title phrase, I have to say that, in the hands of Belinda, "Stuff and Nonsense" became a fitting statement of hesitant optimism, as she embarked on a new kind of relationship, one with so much promise, but so much uncertainty.

True, the somewhat schmaltzy piano-and-strings intro comes on as a little less Paul McCartney and a little more Barry Manilow, but just you wait. Her vocal shakiness, while possibly unintentional and possibly a result of her not really knowing how to sing all that great, also adds to the vibe of fragility and vulnerability. She's sort of going in and out of doing this "speak-singing" thing, especially on the word "promises," and it kind of makes me cringe a little, but every time she seems to lose her balance, she gets right back on track and gives the next few notes some solid gusto. Under the first chorus it sounds like someone is gently banging an aluminum sheet - "Bridge Over A Troubled Belinda," if you will - but fortunately some real drums come in during the second chorus.

It's more or less Belinda Streisand until the instrumental bridge, when suddenly a regal trumpet flies in from the left channel straight out of "Penny Lane." All you need is Belinda! The third time through the chorus, she's joined by wordless "ooh-ooh" backing vocalists, but the fourth time through the chorus, those backing vocalists all start singing the words and it becomes one giant singalong. Hey Belinda, don't make it bad, take a Split Enz song, and make it better. The fifth time through the chorus, out of nowhere, an overdubbed, slightly more faint mini-Belinda starts ad libbing passionately in the right channel ("Know that I-I-I-I dooooo! Yes I doooo-wooo!") while the Penny Lane guy really starts going apeshit. Roll up for the Magical Belinda Tour! Coo-coo-ca-choob!

This is the way Belinda's first solo album ends: not with a bang, but with a pile of psychedelic Beatles flourishes. A splendid time is guaranteed for most.

Saturday, November 12, 2016