Friday, February 27, 2009

“Love Gets You Twisted” / Graham Parker


My blog buddy Betty over at And So Forth got me started recently, thinking again about Graham Parker’s Squeezing Out Sparks. I’m not sure I’d call it a perfect album, but for sure it’s one of the most solid LPs ever, with nearly every track a winner. When this baby came out in 1979, as I recall, punk and New Wave were still duking it out, with power pop waiting in the wings. Graham Parker pulled off a hat trick here, combining all three, mixing anti-romantic sentiments and clever word play with irresistible hooks.

Even though this is one of the slower songs on the album, you could hardly call it a ballad – there’s no crooning, no storytelling, just a moan of frustration. Between the emphatic drum track and those clangy guitar riffs, there’s not a trace of softness or sweetness, and Parker’s gritty vocals attack the lyrics with outright hostility. (Those micro-lags behind the beat, the sarcastic little quavers on key words -- genius.)

The title tells you straight off that his outlook is jaundiced, and Parker works that title phrase relentlessly, repeating it thirteen times and matching it with such rhyming phrases as “the hearts are enlisted” and “I knew that it existed.” We get hardly any details -- no who, what, where, or when – it’s just like he’s visiting the Love Doctor and describing his symptoms, probing every wound. Graham means “twisted” not as in “sick” (“that is just so twisted”), but literally, physically twisted, with your guts in a knot and your spine hunched and your neck kinked up from too many anxious glances over your shoulder. “I try to straighten out, but I’m too wrapped up to see” he complains, and “When she’s in my arms I get tangled up, it’s true.” He's not blaming her -- why should he? It's the inevitable consequence of this thing called love.

So does Graham Parker have any solution? In the bridge, he prescribes his own medicine: “Screw yourself up / Screw yourself up / Screw yourself, screw yourself up.” The way he slides into that “scrrreeew” makes the double meaning painfully clear – screwing up your courage is one thing, but in the process you just get screwed up even further. It’s a losing battle.

I've been thinking a lot about this lately -- about how the music you listen to at certain ages can scuttle your love life. My generation was spoon-fed the true love dreams of Ricky Nelson and Stevie Wonder, and even (god love him) Paul McCartney -- but then some of us in our twenties veered off and developed a taste for the bitterer brew of Elvis Costello and Joe Jackson and Graham Parker. (The Kinks addiction should have been a warning sign, I see in retrospect.) It satisfied some inner craving, I'm sure, but I'm still hung up, oscillating between that and my stubborn longing for happily-ever-after. Which is gonna win out? I still have no idea.

Love Gets You Twisted sample


Betty C. said...

Well, my daughter and I have been listening to this album all week in the car and I think I've gotten her hooked. The album does start out so well. And I'm revising my view on Saturday Night is Dead, although I still really can't get into the UFOs.

I saw Graham several times in small venues and they were fabulous shows. But I somehow knew he would never get a big break.

Your music trajectory sounds much like mine. I wonder about the age difference, if any...well, feel free to email me about that delicate subject!

February is drawing to a close, so you'll have to be thinking about your 15 significant albums list!

Have a good weekend!

Dave K. said...

Thanks Holly!
I have loved this album for the past 30 years. In my humble opinion, it's the definitive album of the new wave era although there are many worthy contenders. I wrote an article for Perfect Sound Forever, when the album was first reissued some 12 years ago:


Anonymous said...

Since you guys are talking about 60's music - you gotta see this very cool series on Small Faces and some other top groups of the 60's -