If the way you drank your coffee,
Was the way you looked at me...
- Lisa Listen
Tails is an album by Lisa Loeb and Nine Stories, commonly misappropriated to Lisa Loeb as a solo musician. It was released by Geffen Records in September of 1995. It has been most convincingly immortalized by its last song and lead single, Stay (I Missed You). "Stay" was released as a single more than a year before the album was released, and the strength of the single's success is basically what landed her the record deal and funded the album. Its success is widely due to its appearance on the soundtrack to the generationally identifying coming of age romantic-ish comedy-ish relationships are difficult but surely you'll fall in love if you're beautiful enough film Reality Bites. "Stay" pinned Loeb as an overnight sensation, as well as a shooting star. The two often overlap.
Those are the facts. Now for the story.
Tails is fucking *EVERYthing* you could ask for from a pop record. It is concise, it is affecting, it is quenching. You'll fall in love, fall off a roof, fall in a ditch, fall in a fresh pile of snow, and fall into bed again sighing and crawling. It'll take you about 45 minutes.
Tails is an honest adventure. Tails is a well-seized opportunity to use widespread success and a good first impression on the aboveground VH1 crowd as a launching pad to do something important. Tails is the perfect storm, the perfect piece, the heart and shining example of one of the hardest things to do in art - an interesting and well-produced pop record that will hold up over the course of years. It is well-ranged, it is deeply puncturing, and it is a warm reminder that these things really can matter sometimes if we're lucky enough.
And nobody cared. People got what they wanted from Stay, and so the song remained on 90s nights at karaoke bars and on iTunes playlists called "Nostalgia" or "High School" or something. The cynicism that surrounded the syrup of the song led the serious music critics and collectors to dismiss the artist for her commercial success. Nobody wanted to take Tails seriously. Nobody wanted a Dark Side of the Moon or a Joshua Tree or a Synchronicity from some East Coast MTV peddling singer-songwriter nerd who felt like America's campy little sister with a broken heart to everyone who dared turn on the radio for a daily commute in the Summer of 1994.
Tails is everything it needs to be. It's the world that failed to give a damn. It is a diamond cursed. A diamond that, in the nearly 17 years (how depressing) since it was released, Loeb has never been able to find again. She got her chance, she took her chance, and she hit her mark perfectly. They ran outta gold medals, kid. So, next time you find that nauseatingly childish olive-green album art with its hand-drawn kitten face on the front somewhere in the 99 cent bin at your local gas station, drop the dollar to open something important. I can't promise your ears will accept this meek little girl and her humble backing trio's effort as a Pet Sounds or some other such pop masterpiece. But It can't just be me. This is one of the most important and unlikely surprises of 20th century art. Let it find you.
Just in case we didn't have your attention. Just in case the rhythm section were doubted as anything but session musicians. Just in case you were wondering where the rock 'n roll was - it is the 90s after all.
Just in case you needed something from here you could play loud. Damn loud.
In her own words,
"It's about a gesture; about sitting next to a friend and elbowing them in the side when you're talking to another person who's totally lying to you. It's about that bruise you get when your friend's nudging you."
- Lisa Loeb
And when will it snow, it's been raining for hours
And why do I feel so alone
Musically, it's playfully schizophrenic. At parts it's driving and distorted in an 'intense' way, at least compared to the rest of the album. And at parts it's wistful and conversational. It's a smoker's song, for sure. Droop your eyes, and contemplate under the weather - cause...why not?
"Listen...you know those days when you get the mean reds?"
"The mean reds? You mean like the blues?"
"No... the blues are because you're getting fat or because it's been raining too long. You're just sad, that's all. The mean reds are horrible. Suddenly you're afraid and you don't know what you're afraid of. Do you ever get that feeling?"
- Holly and 'Fred'(Paul) from Breakfast at Tiffany's
~Garden of Delights
Yeah, sometimes she just needs to see if you can keep up with her. Her and her Jekyll and Hydeness. Yeah. Not necessarily a keeper, or a winner, but I'm glad it's there.
To take a simple musical idea, motif, interval, and to stretch a piece of music out of it. Beethoven started it, Brahms picked up on it, Kevin Drew is still doing it. They call it 'ramping' these days. Does it work lyrically, though?
I'm trying to keep cool
But everyone here likes you
I'm not the only one
See how long it takes you to marinate on that the first time it hits you in the right place. See how deep that one runs.
And are we still solemn and bleeding
And are we still swimming to water that was wet
You can't give away certain things that you get
The arcs, the string arrangements, the changes. It never feels like the first song on the album, does it? Certainly to a first-time listener it wouldn't feel like the introduction to anything important. But the movement in the middle of this song means more than you might think at first.
"There was a friend of my brother's who drove his truck into a wall in Dallas. It made me think about death and survival -- about how some people relieve their depression through dying. Although it is really about survival, there's a sarcastic undertone throughout, with references to that view of death."
- Lisa Loeb
I saw you as you walked across my room
You looked out the window, you looked at the moon
And you sat on the corner of my bed
And you smoked with the ghosts in the back of my head
~Do You Sleep?
Girl power. Toe socks and throw pillows and goofy faces and big, fat E chords. Hear her roar.
Sigh. Calm down. Wake up. It's okay. You can breathe again.
The song that makes you feel like you're on a hammock, a pendulum. The song that takes that big emotional investment you made and tells you it's okay to keep listening, it's okay to love. To feel music again. Breathe in deep. It's okay. Smile if you want to.
First by mind, and then by music
You'll make this all less confusing
It's a slow dive down, it's a fast distraction
It's a strange fall forward, it's my lame reaction
It's a bad day
If you ever do fall in love with this album, it will probably start here. At the verse, at the outset, it's controlled emotion but you can still see it coming. The lights go up, the band comes in, and it all spills over. That lyrical persistence, like in Sandalwood?
You're my medicine
It carries some surprising weight on the right day. This is where you start. Welcome.
"I'm a light-headed wonder," she said,
"Can't you see my mind slow down for you?
There are other songs on the album that have string arrangements, sure. But this is the only one that's used as part of the foreground, an element that the song would be incomplete without. There are some other songs on the album that resemble storytelling, that share characteristics, but this is a true highwayman's tune. It's the most unique song on the album, the most bold, the one with the most unfilled potential. In spite of how frustratingly incomplete it feels, it's very quietly the best song on the album.
This. Again and again and again.
"I guess this is a country-western song. It involves confusion about spirituality, and where you can actually find true spirituality. The song starts out "Who would steal on Sunday?/ Who'd make them believe make-believe?/ Who'd buy a prayer when you can pray for free?" That's in reference to televangelists who steal money from their congregations. Sometimes where you most expect spirituality, turns out to be where there is none. If more people had real love in their lives, they'd stop searching for religion in the wrong places. It's also about finding spiritual comfort in daily things, in being in a band, in the ups and downs of life, etc."
Enough said. Listen to the bassist - he knows. He goes to all the right places, all the right times.
Close your eyes.
Now the peace you will find on your own, you've found
Lights of the city are the stars on the ground
~When All the Stars Were Falling
Are you dancing? Are you still dancing? Let yourself fall comfortably into this one. This is a city song, for city people. The tempo change will hit you like bottoming out of a water slide. The waltz-time section will lift you warm and fast like a meteor flying backwards towards the star from which it came. Peaceful, metamorphic, danceable, and perfect. Smile. This time you have to.
~Waiting for Wednesday
The only real mistake on the album. You know what I was saying earlier about how she didn't take her money-making single and build a really trite, hollow, bubblegum record around it? Well, this is that trite, hollow, bubblegum record you were looking for - except it's only the one song. Thanks, skip it every time.
Love it or hate it, you have to love it. If you know what I mean.
It is without a doubt the album's iron lung. The song that keeps her head just barely enough above water that she can't be cultish, but that gave her success a bleak life expectancy that she couldn't meet. It's why she's an oh yeah you did that one song right musician. It's why this has to be the encore for every set she plays, knowing that everybody would leave after they'd heard it.
So, is it worth the hype? Can its terrible ramifications for her long-term career, and how seriously she and this wonderful album are taken be rationalized? Could its existence possibly justify itself?
Some of us hover while we're weeping for the other who was dyin' since the day they were born, well,
This is not that
I think that I'm throwing but I'm thrown
You said you caught me cause you want me and some day you'll let me go
You try to give away a keeper or keep me cause you know you're just so
Scared to lose
1. It's Over
2. Snow Day
4. When All the Stars Were Falling
5. Do You Sleep?
7. Rose-Colored Times
10. Waiting for Wednesday
11. Lisa Listen
12. Garden of Delights
13. Stay (I Missed You)
-43 minutes, 49 seconds, and a lot of clarity.
Thanks to dem bones for accidentally inspiring me to get this WU off the drafts.
But the moon shines halfway sometimes too