Thursday, May 30, 2013

Song of the day

"Masters of War", by Mark Arm.

Monday marked the fiftieth anniversary of the release of Bob Dylan's second album, "The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan", the album on which Bob found his own voice and, essentially, became "Bob Dylan", for better or, as Bob himself might have argued afterwards, for worse. (The entry for this album is one of the more informative Wikipedia pages I have stumbled upon.)

Listening to its fifty minutes through, it seems much easier, even now, to attach it to what came after rather than what came before, even though in form, at least, it drew heavily on the music of its own past. It, "With The Beatles", and the first couple of singles by the Rolling Stones tell you that 1963 was a pivotal year for popular music; a year when the past was left behind and the future opened up, with infinite possibilities and infinite hope. (That future, at a generalised and simplistic level and with plenty of hindsight, proceeded to play itself out magnificently over the rest of that decade, until things took a dark turn around 1969.)

All of which is to say, "The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan" is an album that stands up well fifty years later. This may be in some part because it only really contains a couple of Dylan's best-known songs, notably "Blowin' In The Wind", and therefore is not entirely caught in a time capsule. It does, though, also include perhaps my favourite song of his, "Masters of War". I can't really articulate what it is that I like about it; I think it is the structure of the song as much as, if not more than, the words themselves. Nick Cave may have learned something about the art of songwriting from this song. The chord sequence at the end of each stanza is a key to what propels the song, even if you have to listen closely to hear it.

That chord sequence is accentuated by Mark Arm in his brutal rendering of the song, which appeared as the a-side of a 1990 Sub Pop single cleverly titled "The Freewheelin' Mark Arm" (the single's cover is a nice take on the original, too; it can be seen at the start of the YouTube clip). He turns the song, as it begs to be, into a Velvet Underground rave-up. It is compelling in the way that rapidly approaching headlights are compelling to a bunny rabbit.

As for Mark Arm's voice, well, perhaps the best we can say is that he doesn't upstage Bob Dylan on that score.