Experiments of Ending: Everything But The Girl, “Before Today” (1996)

Although I’ve claimed elsewhere that pop music is a spinning carousel of pleasure that never wants to stop, it’s also a fact that any piece of music is full of intended endings—the endings of notes and phrases, at least, but commonly also the strongly signaled ending of a verse or chorus or individual line. This might work simply as articulation of the song’s structure, like beats on a larger scale, but it might take on the additional import of a theme of really ending something. “You just slip out the back, Jack,” Paul Simon sings, and then leaves you a space in which to think about the end of an affair.

As I learn by listening to “Before Today” by Everything But The Girl, the sense of a line ending can be greatly intensified, almost but not quite to the point of coming across as a feinted false ending of the song. In certain lines the stream of nervous electronic percussion is subtly quieted toward the end. Listen especially to 1:55 – 2:21. (There’s a prefiguring moment at 1:41.)

Each of these lines is a structural mystery. Is it a fragment, a failure to lead somewhere? Or a mini-song with its own complete arc, a world unto itself? Does it make us feel more like we need to start over or more like we’re getting a better grip on a way of ending? The first feeling reflects the singer’s account of the situation—she says she’s looking for a re-start of love—but the second feeling might turn out to be the one that applies. Tracey Thorn’s vocal sounds almost detached, as though she’s resigned to this.

The effect is revisited from 3:13 on. We have plenty of time to contemplate it–as real endings in life usually need.[1]

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[1] This is not the first noteworthy track I’ve discovered by reading Toby Creswell’s 1001 Songs (New York: Thunder’s Mouth, 2006).

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About Steve Smith

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

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