Sunday, July 6, 2008

This Delicate Thing We've Made

Time now to spread your wings
To take to flight
The life endeavour
Aim for the burning sun
You're trapped inside
But you can still be free
If time will set you free
But it's a long long way to go

“You Can Still Be Free” Savage Garden, Affirmation 1999

Savage Garden was one of the first bands I ever really identified with. Their lyrics ranged from being sweet and often wit-filled (See: “I Want You” from their first self-titled CD, “Sweet like a chica-cherry-cola”) to brooding, bittersweet, tragic love songs. Between their first and second albums, their lyrics certainly took on more serious themes including domestic violence (See: “Two Beds and a Coffee Machine” from Affirmation, “Another bruise to try and hide/ Another alibi to write”) and other personal and social issues. I remember listening to tracks on both their first self-titled album and their follow-up album, Affirmation over and over again while I was homeschooled in France, often following some angst-filled confrontation with my parental authorities in my pre-teen and teenage years. Usually these “recovery” songs would be the most depressing songs on the CD, including, “Two Beds and a Coffee Machine,” “You Can Still Be Free,” and “Gunning Down Romance.”

When the duo, comprised of Daniel Jones and Darren Hayes, split-far from amicably-in October 2001, it was Hayes that went on to release a solo album, Spin Spin, in 2002, The Tension and The Spark in 2004 and his newest album, This Delicate Thing We’ve Made in late 2007 on his own label, Powdered Sugar.

Also in 2007, the ever handsome, Darren Hayes married his partner of 6 years after coming-out publicly a few years prior. To an extent, I feel like Hayes was a celebrity-always more popular abroad in his home country of Australia than in the U.S.-that resided in a perpetual glass closet, living with an apprehension of how public knowledge of his sexuality might affect his public persona. I see it as no coincidence, then, that I identified with so many of his lyrics and still do to this day. Hayes writes nearly all his material and his writing has become more personal with each new album. Indeed, as Amazon’s product description reads, “Hayes has managed to craft an album of intricate narratives and personal confessions that simultaneously document his arrival at peace within himself. He has created something that really demands to be listened to, that hooks you and completely seduces you.”

The song, “A Conversation With God” bleeds with emotional resonance and plays into some of my own personal reflections on many points. Among other things, Hayes seduces with metaphor and this song is but one of many that demonstrates this wonderful talent to inflect his work with meaningful imagery.

A Conversation With God
We're driving
Just me and God
It's raining
It's raining hard
The windows
Are steaming up
The bridge
Engulfed by fog

The rest of
The metal bridge
It beckons
It pulls me in
I argue
I scream at God
For what he's offering

My hands fly off the steering wheel
Can't recall getting here
If I could, I would reach behind
And turn my light on
My thoughts run off the beaten track
There's no light
How's the way back
Take the hand of God
And bite the fear
No more lingering

I'm driving
I talk to God
He's screaming
I only nod
I need to
Be where you are
The leaves and trees
Are shaking

It's raining
The bullets melt
The hunger
Of hunger itself
It's straining
The pain has
A reservoir
It keeps for itself

I'm falling
I'm not myself
I'm diving
I'm underneath
The hull of
A mighty ship
That steams away from here

The bubbles
The surface race
The shining
They replicate
I hear it
The Voice of God
Is laced with sarcasm
In your hands

And my thoughts run off the beaten track
There's no light
How's the way back
Take the hand of God
And bite the fear
No more lingering

My hands fly off the steering wheel
Can't recall getting here
If I could, I would reach behind
And turn my light on

One of the first songs that hooked me on the album, was “Casey”, which later became a single from the album. “Casey” is a wistful, yet driving song that seems to subside in memory or out of time and place, recounting the desire to leave the confines of isolation and leaving town with a universal “Casey” figure, in a fast, yellow car-“A yellow car speeding down a south-side freeway/ When you write this movie/ Make it end like we wanted to.”

“Casey” also made for a superb video:

One of the things I love about this video is the 80s overtones, an era with which Hayes-having grown up during that time-is very familiar and it is a motif that pops up in many of his aesthetic choices on his albums, adding a welcome nostalgic quality to his music. His music is undoubtedly influenced by Prince and Madonna among others and even the subject matter of the 1980s is explicitly addressed in songs such as the song on Spin, "Crush (1980 Me)" wherein Hayes strings off a myriad of 80s popular culture references:

Cyndi Lauper
Simon Le Bon
I put Eurythmics On
Poppin' and Lockin' in the U.S.A
Day Glo sweater tied around my neck Studded Denim
Big Hair
Acid Wash
Rubik's Cube
My Boom Box
Frosted Lipstick
Parachute Pants
Doc Martins
Dead Can Dance
Culture Club
The Go Go's
Pretty In Pink
PacMan Asteroids
Miami Vice
Too early for Vanilla Ice
The Poodle Perm And Blond Highlights

The video for "Crush (1980 Me)" is also a roaring trip back through time to the world of acid wash jeans, big hair, Converse and video games at the bar.

This Delicate Thing We’ve Made is one of those albums that simply gets better with repeated listenings. Other songs from this brilliant 2-disc recording that I have on repeat include, “The Sun Is Always Blinding Me,” “Listen All You People,” “The Future Holds a Lion’s Heart”-which, by the way, includes a reference to my favorite piece of literature, The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde-“Setting Sun,” “On The Verge of Something Wonderful,” “A Hundred Challenging Things” and the list truly does go on. One album review states, “In terms of style, there is pure pop celebration here, in the form of songs like "Listen All You People", "Tuning of Violins" and the first single "On the Verge of Something Wonderful" "Casey" proves that melancholy, yearning lyrics don't have to be stuck on ballads, but can be sung over up-tempo synth-pop to heart-wrenching effect.”

As much as I listen to Savage Garden's work and Hayes' previous albums, with every new album, Hayes demonstrates an amplified level of creativity. This Delicate Thing We’ve Made is a work of art, lyrically sound, deeply meaningful, over an engaging pop style, which, in fact, to say that this is explicitly “pop” music is actually to discredit the wide artistic strokes with which Darren is able to perform over the 25 songs. Either of the CDs could have been released on their own, but releasing them as one collection, pushes this album into the realm of the concept record, touching on so many themes and musical styles. If Joss Whedon is the oft-underrated genius of the television world, Darren Hayes is a musical genius in his own right, one of the greatest singer-songwriters of our generation.

1 comment:

Ryan said...

I listened to 'Affirmation' continuously in junior high, but I never bought their first album (and have yet to hear any of Darren's solo material, though I'm very intrigued).

"Crash and Burn" was always my favorite.