Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Clandestine Classic XXXVI - Made To Last

Feeling Strangely Fine by SemisonicThe thirty-sixth post in an occasional series that is intended to highlight songs that you might not have heard that I think are excellent - clandestine classics, if you will. Maybe they'll be by bands you've never heard of. Maybe they'll be by more familiar artists, but tracks that were squirelled away on b-sides, unpopular albums, radio sessions or music magazine cover-mounted CDs. Time will, undoubtedly, tell.

I haven't done one of these for a while. Not entirely sure why. Time is always an issue these days (see also the great unfinished novel and the house in a permanent state of ongoing decoration), that's part of it. Also, in fairness to myself, it's getting harder to think of clandestine classics. Look at the definition in the first paragraph - it's simply getting harder to think of songs that you probably haven't heard of that justify a claim of greatness. Especially when you factor in the unwritten rule that I cannot feature an act more than once in this series. But never mind, because a recent surrendipitous trawl through some CDs saw me stumble upon Feeling Strangely Fine by Semisonic. Then my problem changed from having no classics to which one should I choose from a whole album full of them?

So where to start? For those of you unfamiliar with the band, let me tell you that they formed in Minneapolis in 1995. After a couple of early releases and some Stipe-endorsement, Feeling Strangely Fine was their second studio album, released in 1998. It yielded their commercial highpoints on both sides of the Atlantic - Closing Time (#11 in the US) and Secret Smile (#13 in the UK) - along with a plethora of reliably good stuff from which I could have chosen a classic: Singing In My Sleep, DND, Completely Pleased, This Will Be My Year, and more besides. But it's Made To Last that gets the nod, and here are the many reasons why.

It starts very slowly, gently, clearly a downbeat tune with a vocal delivery and delicate acoustic guitar line to match. Or is it? Maybe it's just bittersweet? Maybe defiant too? I'm not sure, even after studying the lyrics. I read it as being a song about a relationship that has ended - singer Dan Wilson sounds gutted about it but at the same time he bears his ex no ill-will. Indeed, he hopes - seemingly without irony - that she carries on as she is for a long, long time, whilst recognising that he didn't know how to make her happy. Or... maybe this is all nonsense. Maybe it's just a meaning that I have conjured and ascribed to the song because, although released in 1998, I didn't get this album until early 2006... and right about then I was a prime candidate for wallowing in bittersweet introspection with no ill-will. It was a perfect moment of musical symbiosis - my interpretation of this song perfectly matched my mood, and as a result it lodged firmer than any of the other tracks on what is a remarkably consistent album.

Aside from the "it's all about me" mumbo-jumbo, what of the music? Well, my best description of Semisonic is that they're what Travis would sound like if they came from Minnesota rather than Glasgow. And that's a good thing, by the way - I'm not ashamed to hold my hand up and admit to liking Travis (the eighth best gig I've ever been to, lest we forget). And with Made To Last, Semisonic pull off several crowd-pleasing tricks: firstly, a song that starts off downbeat morphs into something redemptive and quietly uplifting; secondly, it goes up through the gears (notice the change of pace at 1.44 and again at 3.35); and thirdly, it has a soaring, elegiac chorus that pervades and, given the slightest encouragement, achieves ear-worm status. To do one of these things is a sign of rare quality. To do all three is the mark of a classic.

One more album followed, after which the band as a whole seems to have gone on permanent hiatus. Individual members do their own thing, and Semisonic tracks regularly get picked up for soundtrack use (notably Closing Time, used in Friends With Benefits which, coincidentally, I blogged about last month). There are semi-regular mutterings about doing something more as Semisonic but, for now, muttering is all it is. Guess that means you're going to have to content yourself with a copy of Feeling Strangely Fine and today's classic, courtesy of the daily marvel that is YouTube. Enjoy.


  1. The Man Of Cheese19 December 2013 at 17:20

    Great choice - I dimly recall Closing Time being blasted out from jukeboxes around Kent at er... oh yes, closing time. Still a cracker.

  2. Very well put! What a great song from such a great album!