Your Cheatin’ Hook: Low, “Missouri” (1999)

THE SLOW ARROW OF BEAUTY. The noblest kind of beauty is that which does not transport us suddenly, which does not make stormy and intoxicating impressions (such a kind easily arouses disgust) but that which slowly filters into our minds.

I have friends who care little about hooks in music, even on my enlightened definition. And these are music friends. They’re interested in larger-scale structure, or texture, or the concept, or something. Whatever it is they go for, I can always claim it: “That’s a hook.” But I’m afraid my victories are merely verbal.

The real divide here is that not everyone is looking for big peak moments and I am, partly because that’s how I get my kicks and partly because I love the interpretive challenge of unpacking what is concentrated.

But the other orientation isn’t completely foreign to me. I recognize appealing songs and albums with no big moments. I love listening to Low, for instance, and nowhere on my three Low albums is there a big moment.[2] Even their impressively slow tempos don’t have enough tension in them to qualify for Killer Tempo.

Here’s some typical beautiful Low:


However, what I just said about my three Low albums is exactly the kind of claim that often turns out to be erroneous when checked against the evidence, so I am obliged to go back through them. And what do I find but a protuberant Big Moment in the middle of Secret Name—indeed, a cascade of such moments all through the song “Missouri”! Gorgeous chord changes, outbursts of lush harmony and instrumentation, intriguing pronunciation of a key word!


Wait a minute. Are these moments really that extraordinary, or have my expectations for musical eventfulness been Lowered by all those other quiet, steady tracks? Haven’t they cheated, in a sense—setting me up to get excited over not that much?

On the other hand, it could be objected that I’m treating Low unfairly by dwelling on the opposite of what they’re all about. The hook I’ve picked out is just another eddy in their Lowstream.

So, I dunno who’s cheatin’ who.

I do know that I finally figured out how to write about Low.


[1] Friedrich Nietzsche, Human, All-Too-Human, sec. 149, trans. Gary Handwerke (Stanford: Stanford U., 1995), p. 116.

[2] Long Division, Secret Name, and Things We Lost In The Fire.


About Steve Smith

Professor of Philosophy & Religious Studies and Director of Film Studies at Millsaps College
This entry was posted in Rock Aesthetics and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Your Cheatin’ Hook: Low, “Missouri” (1999)

  1. Carolyn says:

    Well, I love your blog and your insights, but I must disagree on Low. The dirge-like tempos and lack of soft/loud/soft dynamics only accentuate the sneaky epicness of the occasional big moment. Case in point from an earlyish album, Trust: Several climaxes in “Time is the Diamond,” leading up to the repeated “well all right” end of the chorus.

    I think there’s a subtle but very effective moment at 1:30 in “In the Drugs” from the same album. The big emotional moments are there, waiting to well up on you; you just have to let go of your expectations of what “big” might mean. Not for nothing did Robert Plant, surely an expert on big peak moments in rock, cover two of their songs on his 2010 album, “Band of Joy.”

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