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Monday, April 30, 2012

"Between the Bars"

Elliot Smith - "Between the Bars" (1997)

I can't believe it just ends like that. I want more.



It's just one man and his guitar. Now to be fair, he does do some multitracking so he can play some delicate acoustic picking lead guitar sitting on top of the chords he's laying down. You can hear it in the verses after the first chorus. Right at the beginning it sounds like he's about to break into The Beatles "Rocky Raccoon". Instead we get a beautiful dark song about alcoholism and love. When the title finally shows up in the third verse it's almost confusing. Is Elliot Smith in jail? Is the person he's singing to? Or does 'between the bars' actually evoke the image of a drunk's pub crawl and he'll kiss them when they leave one bar, but before they enter another?

The chorus seamlessly moves between major and minor keys, leaving us with the up and down feeling that alcohol often brings. The whole song actually does that, but the verses are major and minor sevenths, so when the chorus goes major to minor it sounds like a bigger shift. When the song ends we are left aching, looking for the resolution that will never come. It's a super brief song, not even two and a half minutes, so the ending is all the more bitter because we know that there 'should be more' in length and because it doesn't get back around to the root key that the song is in.

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