Saturday, February 2, 2019

Certain Songs #1443: Paul Kelly and The Messengers – “Look So Fine, Feel So Low” | Medialoper

Album: Gossip
Year: 1986

God, I love this song so much, I’m almost afraid of writing about it.

I bought both the U.S. versions Gossip and its follow-up, Under The Sun during the long, awful summer of 1988, which I spent reeling from multiple breakups — girls and bands — and out of all of the songs on both albums, “Look So Fine, Feel So Low” was the one that pierced me directly to my soul.

It’s a rebound song. A fucking cruel rebound song, on a lot of levels, as it’s Kelly addressing his former lover by totally and completely dissing the person he ended up with.

Kicking off with a twisty tricky jingly jangly jingly Steve Connolly guitar hook for the ages followed a heartbreakingly lovely “hoooooooooo” as the drums build to a good ole steady beat, Kelly starts off all piss and bravado, like he’s totally over her and everything is fucking great, thanks for asking.

I’ve been seen on the street
Wearing brand new clothes
I guess I’ve landed on my feet
I’m a lucky guy, I suppose
She tells me that she loves me
She buys me things
She wants to take care of me
And all I gotta do is sing, sing, sing, sing

Sounds great!! Glad to know that you’re doing better, Paul. Well, see ya around then! But before you can get away from him, he drops the truth.

Well, I look so fine
But I feel so low
Yeah, I look so fine
But I feel so low

Oh. So what you’re saying is that it’s all “Tears of a Clown” up in here, is that it? And yeah, it totally is, and yet, and yet, jesus god that chorus is an absolute marvel. It’s the looks so fine to the lyrics feel so low. Augmented by an organ and a two-man horn section, it’s utterly impossible not to sing along with. And joyously. Which is good, because things are about to get worse.

She takes me by the arm
She takes me all around
And she knows all her friends are talking
Saying, “Look what our good girl’s found”
One thing she’s got on you
She’s so easy to impress
When she asks me dumb questions
All I gotta do is say yes, yes, yes, yes

Ouch. That’s just fucking wrong: he’s being a total dick. And yet, it was the kind of dick I could see myself being in order for companionship and sex. I was 25, and I just couldn’t see, and so I probably turned down perfectly great people because I just wasn’t ready and I didn’t want to turn into this guy. But I could have.

Meanwhile, back in the song, things are still getting sadder and sadder while sounding happier and happier. After a bit of horn-fueled guitar driven double-time, the whole song stops except for a single (ultra gated 1980s reverb) snare drum, Kelly has given up pretending that things are even a little bit OK.

Well, I look so fine
But I feel so low
Yeah, I look so fine
But I feel so low

And then, as the guitars and bass and drums come in and build and build, it turns into a call-and-response.

Yeah, I look so fine (Yeah, I look so fine)
But I feel so low (But, I feel so low)
Yeah, I look so fine (But, I look so fine)
But I feel so low (I feel so low)

And as the backing vocals continue chanting “I look so fine, I feel so low,” and the drums do a double-backbeat, Kelly lets out a couple last “hooooooooooo-hoooooo” and it’s utterly exhilarating and totally devastating all at once. To me, “Look So Fine, Feel So Low” does everything a great pop song should do: engage you in both the head and the heart, and it remains as singable and listenable 30+ years later as it did when I first heard it.

“Look So Fine, Feel So Low”

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