Tuesday, January 06, 2009

"She Moves In Her Own Way" /
The Kooks

This song has been haunting me lately, and sometimes when I find myself humming it, it takes a minute for me to recall what decade it dates from -- that's proof of how well these guys channel the 60s Beat sound. I thought it was just me, but then today on the supermarket muzak, right between Freda Payne's "Band of Gold" and Jackson Browne's "Doctor My Eyes," up popped this catchy-as-hell track by the Kooks. Talk about your instant classics . . .

So even though I've already writtten about the Kooks here, I've got to give them an encore. The version I have on my iTunes, actually, isn't the album track from 2006's Inside In/Inside Out -- it's an acoustic version, from the Kooks' appearance on that Live At Abbey Road TV program. (Some day I've really got to watch that show.) The simpler recording works better, I think; the essence of this song is its crisp, light-hearted bounce. Its skiffle-like backbeat rhythms, the exuberant octave jumps in the melody, were born to be sung over guitar strums. (A ukelele would even work, come to think of it.)

I have to admit, the subtext of this song is baffling. Does he love the girl he's singing about/to? He can't even get his pronouns straight -- sometimes she's "you," sometimes she's "she" -- or are there two girls in the picture? In the verses, she sounds like a pain in the butt, with her "tiresome paper dreams," her "tempered furs and spangled boots," her attempts to "pull his strings" ("So at my show on Monday / I was hoping someday / You'd be on your way to better things" -- that sounds like he'd be glad to get rid of her). But in the chorus he insists, "Well, uh oh, I love her because she moves in her own way / But uh oh she came to my show just to hear about my day." Hmm, now he seems to dig her.

If this is the same girl he's talking about both places, she's really got him in a tailspin. At one point, he tells her, "So won't you go far / Tell me you're a keeper"; in the last verse he's saying, "Yes I wish that we never made it." Or is he talking there about wishing the band had never become famous? Beats me. Way too many young songwriters think they can dash off opaque lyrics, full of you-had-to-be-there references, and expect their listeners to go along for the ride. Someone needs to go take Ray Davies' songwriting course and learn a bit about song structure and clear storytelling.

But this song is just too perky to be about a girl he hates, or about a suffocating relationship, or the perils of show-biz fame. The minute it comes on, I get caught up in that happy-go-lucky beat; Luke Pritchard's boyish tenor delivery is intensely likeable (I can't help hearing a little Peter Noone in his guttural accent, though it's probably more like the Arctic Monkeys than like Herman's Hermits).

Still, those 60s echoes keep coming through. When he sings "moving on to better things," immediately I think of the Kinks' "Better Things"; the line about "It's not about your make-up / Or how you try to shape up" calls up the Beatles' "For No One" ("she wakes up / she makes up / she takes her time and doesn't feel she has to hurry / she no longer needs you"). Even that "paper dreams" phrase evokes the old Traffic song "Paper Sun" (with a melodic nod to "Coloured Rain" as well). These guys clearly know their early BritPop classics; I just don't think this is accidental.

Between the lazy navel-gazing lyrics and the footnotable references to other music, this track is a whole lot more postmodern than it seems. It's got way more style than substance. Still, as we used to say on American Bandstand, it has a great beat and I can dance to it. And when it comes to rock & roll, hey, that's mostly what counts.

She Moves In Her Own Way sample

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