Finn’s Motel mastermind/auteur Joe Thebeau gifted us in late 2006 with the amazing, out-of-nowhere Escape Velocity debut, a concept album about leaving behind the drudgery of cubicle life and suburban malaise for some greater, unknown existence. Even with the help (cough) of a January 2007 MAGNET profile, it took Thebeau nearly 11 years to finally follow it up with the outstanding new Jupiter Rex (Victory Over Gravity). Thebeau will be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week. Read our new Finn’s Motel feature.
Thebeau: While we’re in the Southern Hemisphere, let’s check out another one from New Zealand. Don McGlashan, the Mutton Birds’ primary singer/songwriter, has blessed us with some of the greatest songs by anyone ever. “She’s Been Talking” is on the album Envy Of Angels. A strong argument could be made that it has to work hard to be the best song on that album, let alone a greatest song ever. “While You Sleep” and “Like This Train” are also greatest-song contenders, but “She’s Been Talking” wins by a nose on my score card. This song is a master class in the use of key changes, beat changes and clever lyricism to create tension and release, suspense and relief and, ultimately, soaring transcendence.
A tensely picked minor-chord progression and a skipping, syncopated drum beat make for nervous verses about naked lovers on the beach, one of whom is not sure exactly where things are going. The first half of each verse is punctuated with a suggestive major chord, but reverts back to the minor for the second half. Each verse ends with a crafty chord change, and a start/stop drum beat cause a gigantic major-key chorus to appear seemingly out of nowhere. The syncopation of the verse gives way to a driving beat and a chord progression that takes off like a car climbing upward through the gears. The refrain, “She’s been talking to my friends,” bounces between the lead and counter-melody backing vocals, with each repetition scaling up the ladder of optimism.
The tension and release is also present in the lyrics as McGlashan slowly reveals the scene piece by piece in the verses but then opens up the skies during the chorus. And by the final chorus, “She’s been talking to my friends,” rises over our heads into the hopeful stratosphere of possibilities. The realities of life and love are, thankfully, not present here. We get to live, at least for three minutes and 48 seconds, through the confusion and elation that happens in the moment of discovery.