Saturday, April 13, 2013

Guest Post: Thank U

This guest post was written by Des, an old school chum of mine. You can read more of his stuff here, and you should, as it’s really quite thought provoking – Rob.

Because I've known the author of this blog a long time, and enjoy antagonising him in ways many and various, I was delighted when he asked if I'd mind writing a guest article for him.

We all have some little dirty musical secrets, I suppose. You know, those bands that you really love but rather hope none of your "cool" friends find out about. So I'll some right out here and say it:

I really like Alanis Morissette.

I'm not alone, of course, according to Wikipedia she has sold over 60 million records worldwide. Unfortunately, it's a case of "I like your old stuff better than your new stuff", as her third album, Jagged Little Pill, sold 33 million of those all by itself. That was a great album, including the most savage break-up song ever (You Oughta Know) but it's a song from her more pensive fourth album, Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie that I'd like to investigate here.

The song is entitled Thank U, and despite using the letter U instead of spelling "you" I really love it. In the chorus she thanks India and the song was written after a trip to there, and obviously it had a profound effect on Alanis, because these lyrics are (for the most part, at least) equally profound. Or if not profound, then at least they are thematically courageous. The accompanying film clip (not the one I've chosen to use here) portrayed Alanis walking around Los Angeles in the nude. It's a pretty obvious analogy for a song that quite literally strips the singer bare, in an emotional sense, but I guess it got people's attention. I've cited the live version here for the purposes of an equal comparison with the cover version.


Now, as much as I am a fan of this song, and Alanis and her songwriting, I'm a bigger fan of Steven Wilson. I could go on and on about how astonished I have been at so much of his enormous catalogue of work, how he has brought me to tears, how the Porcupine Tree live DVD Anesthetize is the best live recording of any band, ever. But with one of his earlier musical collaborations, Blackfield, he frequently performs a cover of Thank U that holds up extremely well to the original.

Unlike Alanis' version with the full band, Wilson's version relies on an arrangement stripped bare, much as Alanis is in the film clip. His voice, whilst emotively equivalent, requires a stretch to hit the high notes that gives an edge to the lyrics and a depth to the dynamics that isn't otherwise present. His interpretation is more masculine, perhaps more cynical. He changes the third line of the first verse from "How 'bout them transparent dangling carrots" to "How 'bout changing a line 'cause it don't make sense", which is playful, rather than disrespectful. He puts himself into this piece, the Blackfield version is Wilson's reply to Alanis, in her own words. I think it's brilliant, and I prefer it over the original by some margin.


  1. I am indeed no fan of Alanis. There's a certain irony then, that she appears on this blog. I'm not sure if it really is irony though. It's certainly not like rain on your wedding day, that's for sure. I guess it kind of is like ten thousand spoons when all you need is a knife, though.

    Despite that, I quite like the lyric "transparent dangling carrots". Unseen unknown goals. A nice image. Not sure why wassisname thought it "don't make sense".

  2. Perhaps it's because the analogy of a carrot on a stick relates to incentives rather than goals, and an unseen, unknown incentive isn't an incentive at all. Even if you disagree, an unseen, unknown goal isn't perceptible as a goal until it's been reached or attained, by which time it's no longer unseen or unknown. Ergo, it doesn't make sense.

    Or perhaps Wilson was playfully injecting a sense of humour, as he will, on occasion.

    Oh, and thanks for the opportunity to contribute to your blog. I always enjoy reading it.

  3. You're welcome.

    I have no problem with the injecting of humour, and no problem with how he's done it. I just disagree that the original line doesn't make sense. I could come up with a number of meanings for the line, and I suspect, much like the rest of the song, it makes sense to her.
    In fact I think with that in mind it's an interesting song to choose to cover just because it's so personal. There is some connection that Alanis is telling us about here. Something that has happened to her. To cover a song describing that is a brave choice. I wonder when he sings it does Wilson have his own experience in mind that he puts in, or is he putting himself in her shoes?