Slowcore Week: Fifteen Years of Chairkickers Music with Low (part 2)
Things We Lost in the Fire (2001)
The opening bars signalled the change immediately. The guitar part of ‘Sunflower’ chugs along, and Mimi’s upbeat snare is only slightly on the slow side of regular pop or folk. Even the fact that the album opens with Mimi harmonizing from the first bar – a first – tacitly foreshadows an album less often about loneliness, “feel[ing] small” or “the times you were / ano----n” – although, sure enough, there’s a body in Track One, and no easy answers for the surreal / blasé attitude of the singers: "When they found.. your body / Giant Xs... on your eyes / With my half... of the ransom / I bought some sweet... sweet-sweet-sweet... sun-flowers…"
Things We Lost was preceded by a single that Stuart Braithwaite of Mogwai praised as a work of genius. Fair enough: never had Alan & Zak’s interlocking guitar and bass sounded heavier than on 'Dinosaur Act': crashing in with a brontosaurian Duh-Duh-Duh-DUH, followed by a quieter throb of noise through a delay-pedal or loop-station to simulate echoes, distorted by distance. As we saw on ‘Mom Says’, an idiosyncratic detail with little context can go a long way to suggesting a complex narrative, but the surrealism of fragmented images (with an internal logic presumably known only to the participants) was pushed to new heights, here. The “meaningfulness” of events, symbols, keepsakes, is so private and so individual that it may even die with us, making each death another world imploding, unmourned by many, and mostly explored in solitude –
"You were the daughter / And your father / flew airplanes / But you and your sister / You could tell by the backs of his hands / It was a dinosaur act… dinosaur act"
"Putting your foot down / The nail flew up like a blood red snowflake / Just like a dinosaur act… dinosaur act"
Moving on, ‘Laserbeam’ is a gorgeous, unambiguous and unambivalent lovesong from Mimi that may even gain some pathos from the revelation that the lyrics do indeed refer to the scene from The Empire Strikes Back in which Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) finally declares her love to Han Solo (Harrison Ford). Let’s not feign coolness here: this is one of the more romantic scenes in movie history, for pretty much anyone born after 1960, and all other associations with the Sci-Fi franchise (good, bad, geeky) are irrelevant: “I don’t need a laserbeam / I don’t need a sign / Leave me in the Carbonite / Rest your drunken mind… I need your grace”
Later on, we return to familiar themes (from Alan and Mimi both), albeit with slightly different musical accompaniment: ‘Kind of Girl’ (Mimi) and ‘Like a Forest’ (Alan) are especially Beatles-y (the former resembles ‘Blackbird’), with both finding different synecdoches for embarrassment; Mimi vocalizing a girl’s self-condemnation, and Alan’s imagery somewhere between social nightmare and actual nightmare, a frozen Lynchian moment: “black, like a forest / still, like a lion / my knees are bending / they’re moving their feet / but nobody’s dancing”
Finally, ‘In Metal’ closes the album with a chugging, upbeat riff much like the one that opened it, and also marks the first appearance of (the infant) Hollis Mae on record – whose addition to Alan & Mimi’s family might explain the literal togetherness of many songs, and the romance of others. That sound in the background is her chirping, in this peculiar, anything-but-cliché song expressing the wish that: “just like your baby shoes / wish I could keep your little body / in metal… in metal…”
THE ROUGH TRADE YEARS: Trust (2002)
Before we first hear the flat thud of its drums, echoing massively, ‘(That’s how you sing) Amazing Grace’ opens with a curious variation on its main countermelody, on a chiming synth. Over the course of seven minutes, the song marks Low’s return to their darkest, most solemn, most Gothic of arrangements… but the first few notes are a musical joke, conscious or not: a borrowing from the “Eno-side” of David Bowie’s own Low album. As in many of Alan’s best songs, the lyrics verge on the mythic; almost all we learn is: “I knew this girl when I was young / she took her spikes from everyone” without enough detail to say whether the spikes are withering looks, or fixes in return for sexual favours (an interpretation that might be more banal, but it’s no less tragic). Enhanced by the synth-line and the skills of a commercial producer, the tension of the song is unprecedented, as is the contrast between the funeral march of the verse, and the melodic epiphany of the chorus: “That’s how you sing Amazing Grace / Amazing Grace, Amazing Grace / That’s how you sing Amazing Grace”, which cuts straight from the girl’s spiked youth to her redemption (as in the chorus of the hymn: “how sweet the sound / that saved a wretch like me”, likewise never explaining why the singer is a “wretch”). Has she put her trust in a higher power, and her song is her story at AA? We don’t know, but the gaps in the story suggest that “That” may involve re-visiting the shame of youth repeatedly.
Picking up the tempo, the second track (and single) ‘Canada’ looks almost as mysterious on paper, but it’s less satisfying when you know it’s a true story about the band being accused of smuggling drugs across the border (musicians being suspicious). Fat, distorted fuzz-bass rumbles behind the song, but it’s some of the stodgiest indie-rock Low have produced, and a slight mis-step that divides the fans. More intriguing, but necessarily separated from the first track, ‘Candy Girl’ is another sinister trudge, and seems like a picture of domestic emptiness (“wasting all our days / with Gillian and Dave…”) especially when you realize that this probably refers to Anderson and Duchovny, i.e. Mulder & Scully. A minute from the end, the oppressive repetition of the rhythm section is broken by noises of water pouring, mixed with a muted howl. It’s not any the less disturbing when this turns out to be a sample, because it’s repeated exactly the same, three times, with a whistled melody low in the mix.
Having thrown in what may actually be the kitchen sink (but sounds more than a little monstrous, or extra-terrestrial) Low somehow manage to throw in everything else, without cluttering the sound, over the course of the next ten tracks. The narrative of ‘The Lamb’ (track 6) might share plenty of images with the Christian resurrection story, but it’s sung with all the horror of a vampire rising from its tomb, and particular images (the “poisoned arrow”) contribute to the sense this may be a forgotten mythology (Jesus’ brother, St. Thomas, spreading the word in South America…?), all the more disturbing for being buried in the collective consciousness, beneath a tale drenched in more than enough blood of its own. The spacious soundscape may not be as enticing as ‘Amazing Grace’, but it’s far more ominous with its random jangles of piano-keys… boots stamping on a plank for percussion… a distant, haunted “sha-la-lala-la”… samples of breaking glass… a 4-minute wait before the drone guitar rumbles into the mix… crackles of guitar-leads being twisted in their sockets, and then a slow subsidence that doesn’t resolve anything, just let’s the nightmare images retreat into the distance, for the time being.
Overall, Trust is an album that repays close attention, but it can seem over-long, or badly sequenced. The best songs cluster in the second half, starting with ‘In the Drugs’ (Track 7), which dazzles with the beauty of its simple acoustic guitar part. With quiet control, Alan puts a lifetime’s feeling into the lines: “I was a child… / I was on fire… / But I stayed alive… / While all else died // I held my breath / What could I say? / And I closed my eyes… / Like Marvin Gaye / But now I’ve had enough…”. On that final phrase, the chords change, and Mimi joins in with long sweet tones. Over the next few verses, short, understated solos are played by a clarinet, a banjo, and then a flute bolstered by electric organ. It’s one of the most gorgeous songs Low have ever written, up there with ‘Over the Ocean’ and ‘Kind of Girl’.
Fortunately, 'In the Drugs' is followed by a faster, strongly melodic, and rather Christmassy song, ‘Last Snowstorm of the Year’ (just as ‘Kind of Girl’ is followed by ‘Like a Forest’ on Things we Lost, to avoid an anticlimax), in this case celebrating faith, but with a lyrical twist in each of its perky lines, ending on an upbeat. Note that Mimi doubles up the first two lines of each verse, then sings a single note across the next pair, giving them a glow of extra beauty, before bursting out:
“when we were young! / we wanted to die! / but the sound of a drum! (aaaah…) / and the words of a child! / brought different light! / now no-one can tell! / the winter was nice! (aaaah…) / but the summer is Hell…”
“the ground was so hard! / the nights were so long! / but we suffered the dark (aaaah…) / and we wrote all those songs. (aaaah…) / Still, I was a fool / I covered my ears (aaaah…) / No, I would not face the last snowstorm of the year…”
Third in the series of long-tracks built around a two beat / two rest stomp, ‘John Prine’ (track 9) had been in Low’s setlist for years before they tried to get it right on record. The most detailed song on the album, Alan calls up his most murderous voices from previous records, and studs the lyrics with multi-faceted symbols, so that the desire for revenge seems at once totally undeniable, and yet totally incomprehensible: the private logic of a psychopath:
"I verified the math / and double-checked the syntax / I tried to heal your bo---dy / but it just kept coming ba---ck [a bell chimes…] / you never had a chance."
“I thought I was a po---et / I had so much to ssssaaaay / but now I want to see the blood / I want to make them paaaay [a bell chimes…] / yeah, I can see the day" [and chimes again…]
The song ends with Mimi and Alan alternating a thin “sha-la-lala-la”, exactly like ‘The Lamb’ – sounding out each vocable so clearly it seems more of a ritual, a parody of a melodic progression in which you expect to discover meanings you’re convinced are there, but now that the melody is sung, it seems deranged. As before, the greatest dread comes from the fact that the chorus simply fades out, rather than providing any narrative resolution… it’s gone back into your subconscious, to resurface at any time. True, this is countered by the next (acoustic-led) song, with its tender delivery, but the message should have sunk in by now: finding hope is a continual struggle, with or without faith: “I want to believe / Yes, I want to believe… / just keep counting the stars / til someday you’ll find out / just how many there are / then we all can go home / cause there’s nothing more sad / than a man on his back / counting stars…”
The Great Destroyer (2004)
Low baffled their hardcore followers when they announced their producer for Trust would be someone who had previously worked with Los Lobos. Yet again, they chose to work with a pop producer, and as they put it in the title of track 7: ‘Cue the Strings’. In a sense, this embrace of pop production, and bolder, upbeat playing was a success – Low added to a setlist that would please their ever-increasing audiences (as they note on the contemporary tour documentary). Still, they were straying further than ever from what made them Low, and while this is every artist’s prerogative, there was a slight decline in the creativity of the songwriting that may have fed Alan’s drug paranoia… but more of that, later.
The angry songs are more violent, and more rocking than ever – that would be ‘Monkey’ (Track 1) and ‘Pissing’ (Track 11), which literally opens with the line “I can’t sing / sing a darker song…” and shreds its billowing chorus guitars with whines of feedback. Likewise, the brighter songs are brighter than ever – ‘California’ (Track 2) fulfils the pop ambition of ‘Canada’ with its melodic immediacy worthy of the Beach Boys – and throughout the album, the cryptic, sinister lyrics characterizing Trust are replaced by more quotidian tragedy, e.g. Track 12. ‘Death of a Salesman’ (perhaps deliberately) echoes ‘John Prine’ in the verse where the wannabe singer plays his songs to friends and gets knocked back: “the future is prisms and math”. Skip the dull (is-it-only-five-minutes?) ‘Silver Rider’ (Track 4) and you go straight from the massive hooks of ‘Everybody’s Song’ (Track 3) to ‘Just Stand Back’ (Track 5), the latter chorus stacked with delayed guitars that shimmer gloriously, and a countermelody panning from left to right.
What’s it all about, though…? Most of the time, the songs cobble together vague allusions to the act of making music, performing, and even to pop culture – on ‘Step’ Alan sings “I am the walrus, baby / no-one ever knows my name”, but the weird effects swamp the song’s narrative, and lose any menace that might have been bled from a line like “the words are creeping through my brain”. The longest song, at 7:14, ‘Broadway (So Many People)’ is a postcard from NYC, from a band on tour, but the contrast between the gently whispered refrain (“where is the laughter?”) and the California coke-rock of the verse (chorused guitars, noodling away) doesn’t quite convince. To be fair, the best songs are stunning, even if the least good are unadventurous and there’s a run of subtle and slow-building songs that are good individually, but dragging when put together (that would be: ‘On the Edge of’, ‘Cue the Strings’, ‘Step’, and ‘When I Go Deaf’). In a more contemplative, attentive mood, ‘Edge’ will take you right to the horizon, and ‘Deaf’ is a sincere love-song, renouncing all the emotional baggage of being a self-absorbed singer, and finally giving your partner all she deserves: “I’ll stop writing songs / stop scratching out lines / I won’t have to think / and it won’t have to rhyme / when I go deaf…” culminating in “we will make love…”.
It would seem petty to belittle Low for exploring pop-music – like the heckler at the 2008 Christmas show at Koko, who berated them for “not being the band they used to be”, having come to their shows for eleven years (“yeah?” says Alan, “I’ve been coming to Low shows for fifteen years…”). Admittedly, the album’s lyrical content is relatively thin, but Alan’s subsequent breakdown was due to the need to confront his depression and drug addiction head-on, rather than just hinting at it in song (“tonight the monkey dies…”), and – like the suicides of Ian Curtis and Kurt Cobain – no-one should mistake his personal problems for a testament to the primacy of Art.
THE BOXSET - A Lifetime of Temporary Relief: 15 Years of B-Sides & Rarities (2004)
Fact: few bands record this many great songs in their entire career. The 3 discs, amounting to 4 hours, or 52 songs (+ a secret medley of punk versions) can be divided up into roughly equal parts: Covers (12 songs); Singles and B-Sides; Album bonus tracks and Demos. There isn’t space for any kind of analysis, but here’s why you need it:
To hear the fun side of Low:
- ‘Peanut Butter Toast and American Bandstand’ (Disc 1: Track 4)
- ‘Don’t Drop the Baby’ (3:7)
- Most of the covers, and the hidden hardcore versions, as in “wouldn’t it be funny if we played fast versions of Low songs…”
To hear their covers:
- ‘I Started a Joke’ (1:6), a BeeGees song done straight… unlike ‘Open Arms’ by schmaltz-merchants Journey, which cracks Alan up, as he’s trying to reach the highest note.
- ‘Back Home Again’ (3:6), a perfect take of John Denver’s perfect song
- The Beach Boys’ ‘Surfer Girl’ (3:8), following on from ‘Don’t Drop the Baby’ because it’s what they sang to young Hollis.
- ‘…I Love’ (3:11), which is just heartbreakingly beautiful in its litany of small things loved by the singer.
- ‘Carnival Queen’ (3:12), a devastatingly evil version of Jandek’s haunted lament for a girl whose beauty casts a Hellish shadow on his own ugliness.
- ‘Last Night I Dreamed…’ (3:15), one of the best interpretations ever recorded of the Smiths classic.
- ‘Fearless’ (3:17), a faithful version of the final song from (under-rated Pink Floyd album Meddle), on which they do post-rock and ambient better than most – here, Alan manages to sing more feeling into Waters’ ropey lyrics, and underscores its ontinuity with many a Low song consoling the lonely.
To hear the rarities and demos:
- ‘Prisoner’ (1:8, 9), the most evil of all Low’s early songs, surpassing the dread of the Swans’ own ‘Prisoner in Your Skull’.
- ‘Will the Night’ (2:10), one of Low’s best of all time, and Alan’s first love-song for Mimi; here, sung as a duet.
- ‘Those Girls (Song for Nico)’ (2:17), a deeply loving folksong, in the vein of Chelsea Girls (i.e. the album penned for Nico by various famous admirers) rather than her chamber-Gothic solo-compositions… but mimicking the lush style of 70s folk ironically. In effect, the song expresses sympathy for a puppet of the fashion industry, and through her example comments on the artifice of La Femme, once epitomized by Nico… and in retrospect suggesting that Sparhawk’s own reasons for sympathizing with her may have had something to do with Nico’s own addiction, following years of pressure to represent some kind of icon.
[NB - The Box-set was released before The Great Destroyer, but it made more narrative sense to consider these releases in this order.]
THE LEAST LIKELY SUB-POP BAND EVER
LOW: Drums & Guns (2007)
Retribution Gospel Choir: Retribution Gospel Choir (2008)
Three years isn’t long between records these days… for any band other than Low. The reasons for the delay are fairly well known (and somewhat mythologized), but in his own words:
The following is a lot of sentences starting with “I”. I've heard this is bad form and it tends to paint a very egocentric picture of the writer. Good thing I'm a musician...
Low has to cancel the shows we have booked in May and June – perhaps beyond. I have always tried to extend true respect to the fans of our music. It would be very easy to just cancel without proper explanation, and hope that the rumors tipped our way, perhaps adding to some crafted mystique. But, I'm a coward and I'll leave that to the true artists.
I have not been very mentally stable for the last while. Due to this, touring at this time has become too much of a burden on everyone involved. My current problems and instability create undue and unnecessary stress for everyone close to me, especially on the road, so despite coming back from several months of shows we have thoroughly enjoyed playing and being a part of, I have to respect their best judgment. Those last several months have been some of the hardest to live through, and it is too much to ask those around me to have to put up with that any more. […]
Several months ago, amid a couple "bad days", I found myself standing in front of a photo of John Peel, on the wall outside one of the BBC studios on London. The image of his face in this photo is an image that exposes fools. I was ashamed to even look into his eyes. Still, seeing his calm, wise face made me realize I had been letting my own selfish battle with sanity get in the way of the gift of music that I and we all are so privileged to be even a small part of. […]
Thank you, and again, I am very sorry. I suggest that instead of going to the Low show, go for a walk with a friend or two that day – somewhere where there's trees or rocks and dirt or plants. I plan to do the same, each of those days, right here in beautiful Duluth... Or at the funny farm – who knows? Either way....
And please please please go out and get the M.I.A. CD! And the new Keepaways CD!
Peace be with you.
G. Alan Sparhawk
So. These are the two records that came after the collapse. Interesting conceptually, though it may well be, Drums & Guns (2007) can hardly be called an unqualified success – it’s meant to be Sparhawk’s “hiphop record”, production-wise, but you’d be right to call many of its sparse songs “experimental” or “sketches”. In fact, with Dave Fridmann (ex-Mercury Rev) producing, once more, the continuity with contemporaneous Flaming Lips albums is more evident, unless Sparhawk meant Big Dada or Anticon-style hiphop. Five years into George Bush Junior’s “War on Terror”, Alan dispenses with the songs-about-songs that characterized The Great Destroyer, and had been something of a flight from history, given that the immorality of the war was self-evident in 2004. From the word Go, this is Low’s martial album, and as ‘Pretty People’ says: “all the soldiers… they’re all gonna die / all the little babies… they’re all gonna die… / all the poets, and all the liars, and all you pretty people… you’re all gonna die…” Curiously, Alan neglects his “murderer” voice for this and much of the album – indeed, he tends to avoid anything like performativity just as much as he avoids obvious pop songwriting, in favour of textures and unusual percussion, forcing the listener to focus on the words, not the mood.
That needs reiterating: what’s deeply odd about Drums & Guns is just how incongruous most of the backing track are; so far, I’ve implied that Low can be judged by the same standards as any poets – form is an extension (or an amplification) of content. Is an incongruous form or style more or less interesting, though, if we assume it's ironic...? Here, ‘Pretty People’ clicks and whirs beneath the unemotional litany of destruction, lacking any sense of mourning; ‘Belarus’ lays on syrupy strings that sound like a sample; ‘Always Fade’ mentions execution, screaming, and blood, but with a sleepy delivery… over something like a robot factory line, one of Radiohead or These Are Powers’ stranger studio creations.
Arguably, Low try too hard to avoid cliché, and refuse trite sentiments by refusing much sentiment at all… but it gets you listening closely. ‘Sandinista’ numbly ponders the ethics of responding to a call to arms, over a muted drone of post-rock style delayed guitars; the song’s named for the Latin American paramilitaries, but perhaps intentionally nods to the notoriously difficult triple-album by The Clash (who got Alan into proper reggae). ‘Breaker’ has a stronger melody than each of the above, but compare it to the pummelling rock version on the * Retribution Gospel Choir* album – the whimsical organ-line here presents it as a song about apathy and political disengagement, while people are dying somewhere else; when the solo comes in, it’s ripped to shreds by live-mixing: a twisting squall of noise that contorts violently, but conveys nothing specific. Released a year later, the RGC version is all about RAW POWER. It’s one of the best balls-out rock songs they've done: "our bodies break / and the blood just spills and spills / but here we sit, debating math // it's just a shame / my hand just kills and ki-i-ills / there's got to be an end to tha---at".
Okay, so there are songs where the lyrics align more closely with the music – in a way that creates more emotional impact – but the oddity is omnipresent. ‘Dragonfly Pills’ is a weird, sad, pretty story that (magic realist author) Donald Barthelme might have written. The pills let you see a thousand ways at once, just as the songs lingering delivery lets you see the multicoloured & multifaceted dragonfly wings, and feel the yearning to chase that first high... until the realization "there's no such thing / as dragonfly pills". More intelligible in its use of irony, ‘Your Poison’ condemns the “commander in chief” for speaking “poison” and does so in less than two minutes, as if ranting any longer would be more than the man Saddam Hussein called Little Bush deserved. At first, ‘Bury the Hatchet’ seems out of place with its rapidly twanging melodic bassline, and its lyrics about making peace “like the Beatles and the Stones” – in the second verse it reveals itself to be a song about a girl, but it’s hard not to hear in light of longterm bassist Zak Sally’s departure.
The album highlight, ‘Murderer’ (Track 12) feels like the song Alan’s been building towards for years. Trips inside the mind of a killer are a comparatively recent development, even within the (long established) genre of the American Murder Ballad; itself stretching back to the time when Puritanism loosened its hold on American culture. ‘Murderer’ is the product of a troubled mind possessing sufficient restraint to harm no-one, but no inner restrictions on thought itself. Best compare it to ‘Climbing up the Walls’ from OK Computer, or the most voyeuristic / sadistic tracks on The Holy Bible.
"One more thing before I go, "One more thing I’ll ask you Lord, "You may need a mur-der-er "Someone to do your dir-ty work.
"Don’t act so in-no-cent, "I’ve seen you pound your fist, "In-to the Earth, and I’ve read your Book. "Seems that you could use another tool "…well I’m cru---el, "and I look right through…"
In its use of effects, ‘Murderer’ resembles the howling guitar part of Radiohead’s ‘Where I End and You Begin’, which also features one of Thom Yorke’s most vicious lyrics – “I will eat you all alive / I will eat you alive / and there’ll be no more lies”. Sparhawk arrives at a similar evocation of bloodlust (couched in irony) that demands to be read – such is its suggestion of large-scale destruction, larger than any a single murderer could achieve – as a trip into the nightmarishly skewed logic of the outgoing American President, justifying his warmongering to a Neo-Conservative God.
Clearly, it was time for a break:
“Mark [Kozelek, of RHP & SKM] and I have known each other for a while and we both have a secret love for classic rock and a penchant for playing guitar solos. […] When Low worked with the Dirty Three, it was one of the most fulfilling things we have ever done. And really, musicians used to do this kind of thing all the time-- it was a way to inspire each other. […] I mean, Chaka Khan and Gladys Knight are touring together right now-- isn't that the same thing?" Yes, of course it is.”
The debut album from Retribution Gospel Choir would prove to be the corollary or evil twin of Drums & Guns (2007), rather than an overspill. True, the first album by Sparhawk’s three-piece re-worked the tracks 'Breaker' and 'Take Your Time', but consistently pushed the sound to the opposite extreme, namely hard rock worthy of The Stooges or Neil Young & Crazy Horse. Sparhawk had formed the touring band with Mark Kozelek (Red House Painters / Sun Kil Moon) as second-guitarist, and Low’s new bassist, as well as a (male) drummer with a thick beard and a full-kit. At 30 minutes, on the dot, it's a collection of the most muscular songs Sparhawk could have written. After four songs that rock, straight out of the gate, more Low-like dynamics don't appear until the visionary Destroyer, which defamiliarizes Christian imagery in its first groaned verse, breaks out into guitars befitting the "great devourer" of the lyrics, and then has a sardonic Jesus berating the singer "where the Hell have you been, boy?" in the third verse, only to be answered in an echo of Ian Curtis, or any number of Romantic poets channelling manic-depressive extremes: "I've been to the top of the highest mountain / I've been to the bottom of the sea".
That said, the album finds a place for pop, 'What she turned into' (track 7) revisiting the sound of The Great Destoyer, or Mark Kozelek's mid-period work, with its almost fluting chorused guitars. As ever, many of Sparhawk's songs have a sense of sympathy for strange or solitary female characters, but there's less pity - and certainly less self-pity - than ever before. The version of 'Take your time', on Drums & Guns, had depicted a girl literally on the edge of her mattress, and figurally on the brink of mental collapse, the processed sounds opening up the abyss. Here (track 2), the guitars suggest she should take her time before getting revenge, rather than just leaving the room, much like the girl in 'Somebody's Someone' (track 4) who walks through the city like it's her catwalk, and the girl in 'For her blood' (track 8) who suffers everyone's condemnation, but "takes the stage" at the end. Whatever comes next - Low have your back. 'Kids' (track 9) is a prayer on behalf of "dreamers", including the "girl with the habit" (the same as "the girl who took her spikes from everyone", on Trust?), and ends with a slightly sarcastic "Amen", but the sarcasm's reserved for outdated morality, not the kids, while the final song brings a defiance to its lyrics ("even if we are / easy prey") that dares the world to throw what it can at Sparhawk and his band.