The Postal Service v. Owl City
Recently, on the radio, I heard Owl City's single "Fireflies" and instantly rejoiced at the existence of a new track from The Postal Service. My friend, driving at the time, even told me flat out, "This is Owl City, they're new." and then we got sidetracked in conversation and my brain focused back on how great it was to hear Ben Gibbard's synthpop project coming back to life. It was a sweet moment. Followed by a sincere disappointment. Owl City is doing The Postal Service thing 7 years after Give Up graced our ears and senses, completely shamelessly. Desecration like this can only be likened to the Jake Gyllenhaal/Tobey McGuire drama Brothers. We, the music-loving public are Natalie Portman. The Postal Service is Tobey McGuire, off to war, out of the scene and presumed dead. And Owl City is McGuire's well-intentioned slacker brother (Gyllenhaal) who slides into our bed (radio) when we think the real thing is gone for good. Sure, a substitution can be strong and endearing, but it's not the same, and it doesn't make our complacency with a hackneyed copy more virtuous.
The Postal Service has been on infinite hiatus and we crave more synthpop indie music, but Owl City essentially sucks. Adam Young's lyrics are an empty, near-mindless assemblage of pseudo-witticisms and dreamy, faux-metaphorical takes on love and loneliness. So as to defend this vitriolic initial assessment, a sampling of his words is below from the hit single "Fireflies":
I'd like to make myself believe
That planet Earth turns slowly
It's hard to say that I'd rather stay
Awake when I'm asleep
'Cause everything is never as it seems
'Cause I'd get a thousand hugs
From ten thousand lightning bugs
As they tried to teach me how to dance
A foxtrot above my head
A sock hop beneath my bed
A disco ball is just hanging by a thread
The first stanza says nothing. NOTHING. The Earth, for note, rotates at the Equator at about 1000 mph. Fairly fast, but what does the speed of the Earth's rotation have to do with a mass of bugs hugging and teaching dances? It seems, with all the barely linked "high-concept" lyrics, that we're supposed to have some philosophical "whoa" moment, but these words beg for their listener to be uneducated, prone and high as fucking hell. I took several poetry workshops during my college days, and the least inspired works were indicated by this type of aimless, imagery rambling. To say the least, the critical bastard in me feels compelled to describe these lyrics with the overused Shakespeare quote from Macbeth, "...full of sound and fury; signifying nothing." These words are cute, nearly comical. A person suffering from an actual existential crisis, or crisis love isn't likely thinking about learning steps from flying insects.
Contrast that putrid, feculent pile of lyrics with "Such Great Heights" or "The District Sleeps Alone Tonight" and it's unarguably obvious that Gibbard is more talented lyrically and musically than Young. Give Up comes from a place of vulnerable honesty, real self-doubt and self-deprecation, and unadulterated passion. Each track on that album is unassuming, but says everything it needs to say without weighing stuff down in pointless wordplay and knotted rhymes. And, while no band comes about completely without influence and free of comparison, there are very few bands whose key single immediately makes you think of someone else. Imagine kissing someone in a pitch black room, immediately assuming it was your ex so-and-so, only to find out when the lights came up that it was your current paramour. Who's more upset? You for getting duped? Or that paramour for bringing your flame to mind?
But, I digress. No one will ever touch The Postal Service, and Owl City claims not to be cloning intentionally, so perhaps the legacy will fall as one like that of The Beatles v. The Monkees. We can only hope.
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