Sunday, April 09, 2006

Josh Ritter's "Thin Blue Flame"

I just listened to Josh Ritter's new album 'The Animal Years' online, and when it comes out on Tuesday I for one am planning on picking it up. Brilliant stuff from this Idaho native. Fans of Josh Rouse, Alexi Murdoch, and Richard Buckner will not be disappointed. I've been a fan of Ritter's songwriting since I first heard "Kathleen" on our local Martha's Vineyard station. His lyrics are pure poetry, and in my opinion 'The Animal Years' is his most polished album yet. It's been a long time since a new song has left me speechless, but the tune "Thin Blue Flame" kills me. I've listened to it five times in a row now, and let me tell you, it is nine minutes of near musical perfection. I will need to listen to it five more times to begin to unravel the literary and religious references. The lyrics are some of the saddest I have heard, yet there is hope in his words. Ritter starts off slow, then the building piano, guitar and drums come crashing together into the climax, until they all quietly fall back to earth in a hopeful finale. I haven't heard a song this good in a long time.

I became a thin blue stream
The smoke between asleep and dreams
And in that clear blue undertow
I saw Royal City far below
Borders soft with refugees
Streets are swimming with amputees
It's a Bible or a bullet they put over your heart
It's getting harder and harder to tell them apart
Days are nights and the nights are long
Beating hearts blossom into walking bombs
And those still looking in the clear blue sky for a sign
Get missiles from so high they might as well be divine
Now the wolves are howling at our door
Singing bout vengeance like it's the joy of the Lord
Bringing justice to the enemies not the other way round
They're guilty when killed and they're killed where they're found
If what's loosed on earth will be loosed up on high
It's a Hell of a Heaven we must go to when we die
Where even Laurel begs Hardy for vengeance please
The fat man is crying on his hands and his knees
Back in the peacetime he caught roses on the stage
Now he twists indecision takes bourbon for rage
Lead pellets peppering aluminum
Halcyon, laudanum and Opium
Sings kiss thee hardy this poisoned cup
His winding sheet is busy winding up
In darkness he looks for the light that has died
But you need faith for the same reasons that it's so hard to find
And this whole thing is headed for a terrible wreck
And like good tragedy that's what we expect

That's some shit.

Here is what Ritter's website says about the song:

On "Thin Blue Flame" Ritter steps out of the third person to face his audience directly and articulate his vision of a world in which religious calling becomes a battle cry and everything on earth is sacrificed in the name of heaven. His words combine apocalyptic, gospel-like testifying with dreamy, stream-of-consciousness poetry. As Ritter explains, "The word 'apocalypse' means unveiling, you know, not just the end of the world. In some of the real apocalyptic literature like The Divine Comedy or Paradise Lost, or even Gravity's Rainbow or Slaughterhouse Five, a person goes through a long series of trials and tribulations, seeing things and coming back with new knowledge and maybe new warnings. In the past year, we didn't have to go anywhere to see those kinds of things. We all have TV. We all can see what's going on and there's no one who can say it's a good thing. 'Thin Blue Flame' is a trip through what everybody can see. I was just writing down the images I saw as they came to me. I worked on it for a long time, My notebook was filled with 'Thin Blue Flame' for a year and a half."

Josh Ritter is playing in Providence and Boston April 28 and 29, hopefully I will be able to check him out.


CHW said...

Heavy stuff. Check him out if you can. Would love to hear how it goes.

Just got the new Flaming Lips. Killer stuff. Those guys are so innovative and "out there".

JMH said...

Yeah, 'At War With the Mystics' is getting much play here as well. I dig the more psychedelic sound, though it hasn't grown on me (not yet) the way 'The Soft Bulletin' quickly did. I listen to that album all the time, "What Is the Light?" is such a killer tune, great early morning music.

Have you heard Built to Spill's new one? I've listened to some demos online, looking forward to picking that one up. Some good shit out there right now.