Saturday, March 13, 2010

Raconteurs -- "The Switch and the Spur" (2008)

Any poor souls who trespass against us
Whether it be beast or man
Will suffer the bite or be stung dead on sight
By those who inhabit this land

This is a very odd song -- actually, it's an extremely odd song -- unless you think a song told from the point of view of a rattlesnake who has just delivered a lethal amount of venom into an escaped outlaw isn't odd. (If that's the case, I'd say that you might be a little odd.)

Off the top of my head, I can't think of a song with an odder theme. System of a Down's Old School Hollywood -- which is about the singer's experience playing in a celebrity baseball game in Los Angeles with Tony Danza and other B-listers -- is pretty odd, but I don't think it comes close to a song featuring a rattlesnake gloating about adding another notch to its belt.

I had never heard this song until earlier today, but I knew I'd be blogging about it almost immediately. What sold me initially was the trumpet hook -- think Latin-type fanfare. (Not salsa-dancing Latin, more bullfighter-ish or perhaps Ennio Morricone-ish.) Once that little trumpet riff gets into your brain, you might as well introduce yourself and offer it a seat -- it's going to be staying around for a while.

The song tells a Western-movie kind of story about a man who breaks out of jail and is making his escape across a burning desert on an Appaloosa horse. (You can almost hear the Sons of the Pioneers crooning, "Cool . . . clear . . . water" in the background.) The horse shies when they encounter a rattlesnake, and the man is thrown from the saddle -- breaking his hand, but more significantly falling within range of the deadly rattler. He remounts the horse after he is bitten, but he's a dead man riding:

The poison pumps through his veins
There's no stopping this
And now he's powerless
Still holding the reins

The lines quoted at the beginning of this entry then follow, as the snake throws down a verbal gauntlet (perhaps on behalf of all his poisonous brethren -- scorpions and the like) to any beast or man who is foolish enough to invade its turf: "You shall never return!"

As you probably know, the Raconteurs was formed by Jack White of the White Stripes and his pal, Brendan Benson. I was completely unaware of the 2008 CD this song is from -- Consolers of the Lonely -- until I stumbled across it at the public library a couple of weeks ago. I decided to listen to it while driving to my basketball refereeing gig today, and by the time I heard this song the second time, I was hooked. I have sort of an addictive personality, and I'll probably listen to this over and over and over on the way to and from my refereeing assignment tomorrow. (God help any of my kids who are stuck riding with me somewhere tomorrow.)

Here's a link to Consolers of the Lonely at Amazon:

You've GOT to see this -- a dual-Stylophone YouTube video by a fan. The Stylophone was a $19.95 pocket synthesizer invented in 1967 and sold mostly to kids, but used by some serious musicians then and now -- including the Raconteurs, who sponsored a contest inviting fans to send in videos of themselves playing Stylophones. (I gotta get me one of them things.)

Here's "The Switch and the Spur" in its entirety (sans Stylophone):

Here's an excerpt of the song behind a montage of photographs by Autumn de Wilde:

Finally, a video of a live performance of the song -- it's very good, and the drummer (Patrick Keeler) is a beast, but there's no trumpet!

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