Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Certain Songs #1472: Paul Westerberg – “Crackle & Drag (Original Take)” | Medialoper

Album: Come Feel Me Tremble
Year: 2003

After the relative sonic unity of Stereo / Mono, or even the major label albums, Come Feel Me Tremble was a bit of a hodgepodge, alternating fuzzed-out ravers like the 6:00 “Pine Box” with lush, acoustic songs like “Meet Me Down in The Alley.”

It was like Paul couldn’t quite figure out in which direction he wanted to go in, so decided “both!” And yeah, this has always been part and parcel of his music, but on no record since Hootenanny! was it so all over the map.

To the point where right in the center of the album, he had two disparate versions of “Crackle & Drag:” the “Original Take” and the “Alt. Version,” electric and acoustic. Of course, Paul wasn’t the first person to do this: Neil Young has done it a few times, as well as Yo La Tengo, and — probably more to the point, Bob Dylan, who stuck two radically different versions of “Forever Young” next to each other on Planet Waves.

She made a good go, for a weeping willow
Closed all the windows, and made herself a pillow
And her limbs clung to the ground
She lay her head down

While the acoustic version has its charms, I prefer the electric version, for the overall desperation of the sound — especially the vocals — which I think is more appropriate for a song about a suicide. And in fact, if I want to overthink it for a second, I’d posit that the electric version is pre-suicide and the acoustic version is in the aftermath.

Her hair was dirty, in February
She was thirty in 1963
A thousand seconds more, on the oven door
She took a long deep breath
While her baby slept

“Crackle & Drag” is about Sylvia Plath, who killed herself at the age of 30 in 1963 after years of depression and previous suicide attempts. All things considered, it’s a pretty brutal song in either incarnation but this was the version that would come to my head in the middle of the night after the album came out, because I loved how it sounded, right down to the almost random piano that decorated it.

With a cold, fixed stare
She’s cursed with insight
And you can’t repair
She’s broken inside

And did I mention the vocals? Check out how Paul’s voice totally breaks on “can’t repair” and the way he holds out “insiiiiiiiiiiiiiiidde,” like its the the end of the world, while the guitars bite and snarl with absolutely zero mercy. That what I love about this version: it’s just unsparingly brutal, right down to the end, where he repeatedly quotes the last line from her poem, “Edge.”

And her blaaaaaaaacks crackle and drag
Blaaaaaaaacks crackle and drag
Blaaaaaaaacks crackle and drag
Blaaaaaaaacks crackle and drag
Blaaaaaaaacks crackle and drag
Blaaaaaaaacks crackle and drag
Blaaaaaaaacks crackle and drag

He just sings it over and over and over again, as if maybe this time, when he holds the long note of “blaaaaaaaaaaacks” it will give up some of the insight she was cursed with. But, instead, “Crackle & Drag” doesn’t really so much burn out but fades away.

“Crackle & Drag (Original Take)”

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