Best tunes of 2002: #14 The Polyphonic Spree “Light & day / Reach for the sun”

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The Polyphonic Spree has already appeared twice on these pages: once for their cover of Nirvana’s “Lithium” for my ‘100 best covers’ series and for the second time, this very song was included on the playlist I created from bands I’ve seen as opening acts. In both of those posts, I wrote about how I discovered the band because of their opening spot on David Bowie’s “Reality” tour so I won’t bother rehashing that tale. Instead, I just want to say a few words about a great film called “Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind”. (Bet you didn’t see that one coming.)

If you haven’t seen it, the film is a weird, wonderful, and truly beautiful story about love, starring Kate Winslet and Jim Carrey. It was directed by Michel Gondry and the screenplay was written by Charlie Kaufman so that might give an inkling of you might be in for, should you decide to watch it. (And if you do, I’ll try not to spoil it for you with any of the following words.) It’s a film told out of sequence and through the use of memories (and lack thereof) in Jim Carrey’s character’s head. He has just recently broken off a two year relationship with Winslet’s character, who has taken the drastic next step of erasing him from her memories. In a vengeful fit, he decides to do the same. What we see in the film is this very process and posits answers to questions like: what happens when he decides he doesn’t want to forget her anymore? What happens should these two meet up with each other after they have both had this process done? Is the love we feel for another just a culmination of the memories and images we have of the other person or is it something bigger, something more innate, more ingrained in our natural fabric?

I originally watched this film while living in a basement apartment in Vanier with my wife. I think it was likely a few months after the release date early in 2004 because I remember getting a copy of the DVD from the Ottawa Public Library. I watched it by myself and then convinced Victoria to watch it with me a few days later. We both loved it, of course, though I was probably slightly more enamoured with it. I’ve since seen parts of it on television and whenever I do, I linger on the channel if I have the time and just appreciate the ingenuity of how the story is told. Just last week, I rewatched the whole film again when I saw that this post was on deck for me to write.

And in case you’re wondering why all the talk of the film, this song, “Light & day / Reach for the sun”, (as well as another of the group’s tracks) is on the soundtrack for “Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind”, though I never did place it within the film itself. (Let me know if you are able to do so.) It originally appeared on The Polyphonic Spree’s debut album, “The beginning stages of…”, and was released as a single the following year, along with its original video. The video was redone (see below) when the song was included on the soundtrack and the band began to pick up more steam. It is just as quirky as the film and the gigantic, cult-like band itself and features scenes from the film with superimposed mouths singing words of the song.

Have a look and let some sunshine in on your life.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2002 list, click here.

100 best covers: #77 The Polyphonic Spree “Lithium”

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Some of you might remember that I started off the countdown of my favourite songs of 1991 with a post on Nirvana’s “Smells like teen spirit”. I bestowed upon it an honourable mention rather than ranking it in the list and explained how Nirvana excited me at first, much like it did everyone else, but how I quickly became oversaturated with the mere mention of them. It took many years before I could appreciate the band and I think swearing off of commercial radio went a long way towards getting me to this place. All that being said, there were a handful of songs from their catalogue that didn’t have me running screaming, even back then, and “Lithium” was one of them.

Ten or fifteen years after the release of “Nevermind”, my wife and I and another couple of friends went to see David Bowie on his “Reality” tour. We walked into Scotiabank Place (or whatever it was called at that time) to find our seats during the opening band and they were quite the sight, all active and dancing and gesturing in white flowing robes and so many of them, they filled the stage. It was one of the few concerts that I didn’t try to get a grasp on the opening act in advance but they made such an impact on all of us that I hit the internet the next day to investigate. I learned that The Polyphonic Spree were a symphonic rock collective orchestrated by Tim DeLaughter after the dissolution of his 90s alt-rock band Tripping Daisy (“I got a girl”). I checked out their debut and loved it but still distrusted them a bit, given their garb, almost impervious sunshine, and cult-like feel. My friend Tim’s assessment, after playing them for him, was that they sounded good but that they were ‘too damned happy’.

Between the releases of their second and third albums, The Polyphonic Spree released an EP called “The wait” that included three covers amongst its five songs. It’s likely obvious by now that one of these was the subject of this post, a cover of Nirvana’s “Lithium”, and well, I love it.

The muscular guitar intro from the original is turned into the plinkety-plink of piano keys. Kurt’s hurting angst becomes Tim’s unending hopefulness and he’s joined by a choir of angels. Of course, both versions turn it up at the chorus, the original, a raging mosh pit and the cover is a symphony gone psycho. Fellow blogger, Steve for the deaf, in his post on this very same cover, described it as “like wearing [Guernica] as a T-Shirt because you like horses”, which I found hilarious and more than a little apt. Indeed, Steve’s comparison reminded me of the gen-x parents I saw out one night who had dressed their toddler in a onesie that featured the iconic image of Che Guevara and the words: “I don’t even know who this is”.

I find it’s usually best not to take ourselves too seriously. What are your thoughts? Good fun? Or is it too soon?

The cover:

The original:

For the rest of the 100 best covers list, click here.