Tuesday, February 10, 2009

"Love's Not a Competition (But I'm Winning)" / The Kaiser Chiefs


Modern indie bands seem to avoid love like poison. I bet if you did a database search through the titles of songs written in the last 10 years (if you had nothing better to do with your time), you'd find an incredible drop-off in the use of the word "love." Even when they mention it, they seem all freaked out about it. Take this 2007 track by the Kaiser Chiefs, that industrious bunch of lads from Leeds. They’re paying lip service to the old ideas of romance, but what they’re dealing with is anything but.

“I won’t be the one to disappoint you / Anymore,” singer Ricky Wilson starts off, in his earnest and sincere register, set against some spacy synth riffs. The rhythm’s edgy, all off the beat, and the line jumps around in anxious diminished fourths and minor thirds. I usually think of Kaiser Chiefs as hard-punching rockers (“Ruby Ruby Ruby Ruby RUBY”), but this is sinuous run-on stuff--I can almost hear Morrissey singing this, or Style-Council-era Paul Weller. “I know, I’ve said all this and that you’ve heard it / All before,” he concedes, but he’s focused on gamesmanship: “The trick is getting you to think that all this was / Your idea.” Earnest and sincere he may sound-- but he's scheming too, planning his getaway.

The way he alternates long lines with short lines, it’s like we’re only hearing his side of the dialogue. I reckon she’s the one who's come up with this self-help platitude, something out of an advice column in Woman's Own, telling him “Love’s not a competition.” He obediently parrots that back to her, but he just has to add, “but I’m winning.” Which makes the whole thing moot.

“I’m not sure what’s truly altruistic / Anymore,” he says wearily in verse two; he'd like to be good-hearted and selfless, honest. But all her score-keeping and balance-weighing overshadows every move he makes. I’ve seen so many people – men as well as women – load this onto relationships; god, do I know how he feels. (That thing you said, or did, or didn't do, three days ago -- and you're still paying for it.) “Love’s not a competition but I’m winning,” he says again, but then he admits, “At least I thought I was, but there’s no way of knowing.” This couple has so much baggage, they can’t help but disappoint each other. Nothing’s holding them together but this fierce spirit of one-upsmanship.

Now, it's true that the rock singer gets the last word; he gets to tell his angle, and the woman is hung high and dry. I bet she has her side of the story too -- he could very well be an insensitive pain in the ass. But that's beside the point; the bottom line is, they're making each other miserable. So why are they still together? How can they call this "love"?

These guys have got human psychology down all right, but it's not exactly heart-warming information. I doubt this song is gonna get played a lot at wedding receptions.

Love's Not A Competition sample

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