Fri December 28, 2012 12:25 pm
A Guided Tour of No Code
I've already written about No Code as a whole, and how the combined themes present the album and what we should take from it. But none of you have read it yet. Why? Because it can be found in my piece for the "You Never Forget Your First Time" series, which I've obviously yet to post. I was going to copy and paste a few passages from that and post them here as part of my preliminary notes about No Code, but decided against it in fear of redundancy. What I wrote in that piece, along with other ideas about the album that are discussed within each track's overview here, will surely relay the same ideas, if only in a broader sense. So I'm instead going to throw something at you, and ask that you keep it in mind as we go through these songs. After I've dissected the album track-by-track, I'll finish off this thread with an epilogue that will hopefully tie the whole thing together. The idea? I thought you'd never ask.
No Code is about two characters, which I'll refer to simply as characters "A" and "B." They both weave in and out of this album, at different points. Here are where they make appearances in each of the album's songs:
Sometimes: Character A
Hail Hail: Character A
Who You Are: Character A
In My Tree: Character A
Smile: Character A
Off He Goes: Character A and B
Habit: Character A and B
Red Mosquito: Character B
Lukin: Character B
Present Tense: Character A and B
Mankind: Character A
I'm Open: Character A and B
Around the Bend: Character A
The first (or maybe only) character of each song listed is the narrator, and if the second character also appears, he is the subject being addressed or spoken of.
I'm not asking you to believe No Code is a concept album, but I am asking you to consider the possibility that this album is much more unified than given credit for. That's the last I'll speak of this until we've completed our tour, and by then I hope you've all drawn your own conclusions. Maybe you'll like No Code a little more and have a better understanding of it. See you on the flip side. Enjoy.
No Code opens with Sometimes, which I like to refer to as an anti-prayer. A prayer begins with the words "Dear God," followed by someone speaking to God and putting all of their love and trust for their best welfare into His hands. Sometimes turns the whole thing around—it's an admission by the narrator that God doesn't always get the job done, so he's going to rely on himself. He even saves the "Dear God" part of the prayer for the very last thing he says, as opposed to the traditional placement of that salutation within a prayer.
The song opens with a sweet, easygoing guitar part before the first verse. The imagery of Ed's opening lines is superb: God's big hands pushing various colors of paint around on a canvas. The paint metaphor for people is great, not only because of the idea of multiple colors, but paint is an object that is useless without someone delegating where it goes and what it should do. The opening verse is drenched with metaphor. God pushes us simple subjects to create something of his liking, not for our benefit or enjoyment.
This is a pretty drastic thing to tell God, which is followed by a small musical nuance before the next verse begins—a short guitar part that sounds like thunder or rumbling in the sky. God's not having what the narrator is selling, and He's letting him know that he better explain himself before God unleashes his fury. The subject at hand may not feel he needs God, but God's letting him know that the deity hovers over him and is indeed a furious God. All in about ten seconds of guitar work.
Next, the narrator attempts to defend himself. He claims he'll devote himself (not necessarily to God; most likely, life itself), but his part is small and he equates it to a book surrounded by many others on a shelf. The book symbol is a fascinating one, because like the paint, it's pretty useless an object on its own, without someone extracting the knowledge found inside and applying it to the world for well-being (the idea that they are both under the control of a higher power). But instead of someone doing so, hence making a personal connection with the subjects, God has chosen to let the books merely sit on a shelf. He has chosen not to make them useful or worthy, not unless He wants to. In other words, all these subjects are at his disposal, but at the same time disposable. At least that's how God has made the narrator feel: ignored and worthless.
Finally, the narrator confesses, but not before almost stalling. "Sometimes I (add random activity here)" five or six times. Then come 2 more focused activities, kneeling and speaking of nothing. The narrator is down on his knees to pray, but knows that each word he speaks is as useless as the next. He doesn't believe in this activity, most likely because it's yielded his time and effort nothing. Then the doozie for the vocal coda: "Sometimes I reach to myself, Dear God." He's explained himself, and that's that. But this time, there is no thunder, just a guitar that is a bit louder and higher tempo than the opening—movement. The narrator will be moving along with only himself to turn to, and God doesn't object. At least not yet.
Lyrically and thematically, this is a very heavy way to open an album, but not one without merit. Everything about Sometimes will be more fully fleshed out by the album's end: maturation, spirituality, confusion, acceptance, inner peace, etc. It's a thematic microcosm of what No Code is about.
There is a point in every romantic relationship in which the passion begins to fade, and a sort of complacency sets in. What makes this even more difficult is when each partner reaches that complacency during different time frames—a recipe for mass confusion. So what could be left to hold the relationship together, even if it's not in terrible or immediate danger of failing, but it is suddenly a possibility now that the thrill is gone? This is the question that Hail, Hail asks, and the answer isn't necessarily love.
The song bursts into action right out of the gate with a driving, hard rock tempo—a sonic blast after the muted fade of Sometimes. The first stanza is the narrator's admission of confusion as to the state of the relationship and the direction in which it is heading. "Are we bound out of obligation?" he asks. The word obligation is a whopper, because an obligation is something you have to do, something you are demanded to do to avoid an undesirable reaction. This is followed by the narrator's insistence that he understands the words (most likely "I love you," which have grown so redundant to have lost all meaning they once held), and that he wants to feel, not think. This beckons back to a time when he and his partner thought with their hearts, which were the only instruments they needed. But after a period of time, the easily-corrupted mind has replaced the innocence of the heart as to what dictates the relationship.
The second verse (let's skip the chorus for now) opens this relationship to our eyes more than the former. Perhaps the narrator's feelings of the first few lines were an overreaction, for here he's reiterating his life-long devotion, as well as questioning if its plausible that they meet in some sort of mysterious afterlife; not exactly two subjects to be considered for a relationship that is falling apart. The next two lines reiterate the complacency idea, but in a different manner: speaking of the past, he claims he can be new again, i.e. he can find the ability to rekindle the spark, even if she's uncertain ("you underestimate me"). They know each other so well, including their pasts, that the present has grown dull. Hence, someone has to step forward and deliver on a better tomorrow.
Now think about the title line after each of these verses; same line, with two entirely different meanings. The first time is almost a plea for the narrator to find luck again, because that's the only way the relationship may survive. But the second utterance of the phrase is the narrator stepping up to the plate. He is in love, and he'll be damned if he's going to let this one slip away. Same line, two meanings. After a short guitar solo, we move onto the bridge...
Like the music, the vocals of the bridge are softer and more tender, almost a petition for some calm, rational understanding of the assessment of what they have to do from this point forward to keep the flame burning. The symbol of the bandaged hand in hand (and which of their hands, if not both, are bandaged is left unsaid) is just perfect. What do hands do? They build, they construct, they fix. These same two hands built this relationship once, and together, they're going to rebuild it. And this rebuilding, or re-enlightenment, will come through hands that are in the healing process.
This line stands alone quite well, but consider the next line (first of the last verse) in relationship to it: "I find it on the run in a race that can't be won." Why can't the race be won? Because they're hand in hand, and it's nearly impossible for two people to maintain the same speed for the duration of a long-distance race, i.e. their relationship. And this is the "it" that the narrator finds: a true love, one in which there's ebb and flow of speed, or passion, but they're still running together. It's not a race anymore, but a journey, and through this realization comes a real victory, tangible or not. How the music reacquires its original tempo matches the idea of the race, and Ed's chants over the outro (notice how we lose percussion as the song gradually closes) sound like a steady, rhythmic heartbeat. Musically and lyrically, the song comes together nicely by its final note to showcase a mature, multi-layered song about love and its glorious difficulties.
Who You Are
Unlike the first two songs on No Code, Who You Are doesn't contain a narrative or conflict, but that doesn't mean it doesn't have a point. It's a song about self-appreciation, and how in the grand scheme of things, we all have to take part in this world. Being comfortable with the former makes the latter that much more easier—and along the way, you may just have a little fun during this small span of time we know as our lives.
What's most notable about Who You Are is the music. It's by no means groundbreaking as a musical composition, but it's the first Pearl Jam song to appear on a record proper that sounds like they're actually enjoying themselves a bit. The keyboards, layered vocals, upbeat drumming pattern and clapping hands give it a party-life feel, and I swear I even hear Ed snapping his fingers a few times after those final chord progressions come to a crescendo and the main riff makes its last appearance. The music screams, "Don't admire me. Enjoy me!"
And the narrator/messenger has come to spread the idea of enjoyment as well. "Just a little time before we leave," he warns. What's great about this line is Ed takes a cliched expression (Life is short), and puts it into his own words to convey the same meaning. But he takes it a step further by not using the words â€œlifeâ€ or â€œdeath,â€ or even alluding to them. The narrator speaks of us being here now. Our collective lives are all but a freckle on the face of Father Time, represented by the stoplight's role in our lives. It's there, and eventually is going to tell us that it's over (again, no mention of death or theological endings). So what is the point, then? Why are we here? It doesn't matter. That answer is for another time. For now, just be yourself and you're bound to make some kind of difference. It's nowhere near as complicated as we make it out to be.
From the narrator's perspective, there's no need for drama queens. With merely five words, he explains what the past is and what it should mean: "trampled moss on your soles." The moss is the past; it's still attached to you, via the soles of your shoes. But it's beneath you, for the past is an easy thing to conquer. And even if it sticks around, it's on the unseen surface. It's lightweight baggage that has no bearing on you as a person. The next line seals the deal: "Seen it all? Not at all.â€ Notice the question mark. You think you've seen it all, or that you've been handed an extra helping of bullshit for one life? No way. Get over yourself, already. As Dylan once said, "Now that the past is gone." If you define yourself by your past, then you'll most likely find it rather difficult to celebrate your present.
And that really is the point of Who You Are—it'ss a celebration. A celebration of music. A celebration of life. A celebration of you. This was Pearl Jam's first feel-good song, which is probably why it scared the shit out of so many fans after Vitalogy (keep in mind that this was No Code's first single as well). The band was traveling through new grounds, but new doesn't necessarily mean bad. Just a different style of song for a different style of band. And maybe, just maybe, for a different style of fan as well.
In My Tree
"Let's say knowledge is a tree, yeah,
It's growing up just like me, yeah."
Along with the title couplet of Present Tense, no lyric better represents the point of No Code. In My Tree is a perfect song to follow Who You Are, and for two reasons. First, both have that Jack Irons groove going on with the drumming. Second, both of them explore, through their lyrics, the concept of perspective, albeit In My Tree is less celebratory and more philosophical. Whereas Who You Are celebrates life, In My Tree celebrates self. But really, the two are intertwined, and the songs, as sequenced back-to-back, make for a fine pair of companion pieces.
But In My Tree digs a lot deeper than reinforcing the affirmation of life; one of its main themes is reclaiming one's innocence, an extremely difficult, and most times impossible, task to attempt to accomplish. If we define the loss of innocence as the moment in which we realize the world is a fucked up place, then how in the hell can we ever recapture that naivete, knowing what we now know? Sometimes the easiest way to understand something is to segregate yourself from it fully, and only then will you reach some sort of clarity. The narrator of In My Tree begins the song in a self-imposed exile, but by the song's end, he's something to show for it.
Keep in mind the symbol of the tree as knowledge (or life experience). A tree needs sunshine (positive) to grow, but it also needs rain (negative) as well; too much of either one can kill it, but given the right blend of the two it grows strong and healthy. And in doing so, it spawns many branches, forcing itself further and further into the world around it. It may be met by some predators, but it's also met by many who appreciate its beauty as a living being. People are a social animal, and the benefits of these positive relationships with those outside of ourselves far outweigh the negative relationships that intend to destroy us. The tree is protected by a thick protective layer known as bark, which defends it from outside elements as to not allow its tender insides be damaged. We're all just trees in the forest, forced to fend for our own personal well-being. Other trees aren't a threat to us at all. Even if its camouflaged, we all have our own personal bark. You can only preserve yourself using patience, for it takes time for the bark to grow thick enough to keep the undesirable away.
But enough about metaphor; let's get down to the actual lyrics. The first two verses almost describe a man left lonesome by his solitude; his friends don't recognize his presence, but he finds solace in some of the trade-offs:
"Newspapers matter not to me"
"No more crowbars to my head"
This is the easy way out. Dismissing the world in which you live is quite convenient, given that the alternative argument would be finding the good in it. The bad will always be easier to spot than the good, because in the overall scheme of things, a few spots of black are easily spotted when interspersed upon a canvas of white. To remedy this train of thought, the narrator decides to look inside of himself to grasp some type of perspective. This is not an easy task, and it leads him to heights heretofore unbeknownst. This is his awakening.
"Eddie's blue sky home." Ed chose to self-reference himself as the narrator, but replace his name with the word "my" and this song as inclusive as it gets. We all have to pave our own road for finding heaven on earth, and that journey begins with examining the roots of who we are as individuals and what we can become. "I remember when I swore I knew everything," Ed sings. Who amongst us cannot relate to that lyric? I challenge someone to claim they can't, and I'll in turn call them a liar. Finding perspective is a funny thing, because it occurs randomly without asking permission. The narrator initially seeks seclusion, but ends up with a whole lot more than he bargained for. It's moments like this that change lives, and as powerfully alarming as they are, they're integral to one's understanding of their place.
From time to time, we all need to take a step backwards and contemplate our lives to determine what they really mean. If you are unable to see yourself as an entity outside of yourself, you're taking yourself too seriously. Growing up is not always pleasant, but ultimately extremely rewarding nonetheless. Grow high, and grow out. You'll find that the sun is more likely to shine on you if you do.
Smile is a song about separation, yet never fully fleshes the feeling out. But don’t fret kiddies, for this benefits No Code at this point on the album. The previous four tracks all attempt to make a point about certain subject matter (faith, love, self, maturation), but Smile lets us off the hook for a bit of a breather. It has something to say, but says so fairly implicitly. You’re challenged to take the sparse lyrical content for what you will, and even if a thousand people all interpret it a thousand different ways, chances are that all their views are linked by the feeling that the song expresses. And that feeling is longing for someone, which is probably why the lyrics are left so ambiguous—we all long in our own unique manner.
Musically, Smile is quite reminiscent of classic Neil Young & Crazy Horse, almost overly-emphasized with the inclusion of the harmonica, which was a first for a studio track by Pearl Jam. Smile stands up just fine without this added instrument, so why its inclusion? Historically, the harmonica is the instrument played by a sad, lonesome man singing the blues. Perhaps Smile is really just a blues song hidden under the guise of a rock exterior.
But what sets it apart from a typical blues song is the uplifting delivery of the chorus, both musically and vocally. Compared to the rest of the song’s thick rhythm guitar sound and baritone vocals, the chorus just soars. Read the lyrics to this song without music, and it’ll come off as real downer. Then listen to the song a few times, recognizing some of the musical nuances, and you’ll discover an entirely different perspective of Smile. To reiterate: feeling, my friends. Feeling. Not just in the sentiment, but in every aspect. The song never could have worked without it.
“Don’t it make you smile when the sun don’t shine?” The obvious answer to this is a big, fat “no.” What the fuck about a grey sky or darkness would make someone smile or emote some type of amusement? Someone waiting on the other side, of course. For the narrator, the sun may very well be shining, but he can’t see it because he’s separated from the person he loves for the time being. He’s drenched in darkness, left alone with his memory of this person as his only true light. He smiles because he knows he’ll see them again; where or when it left open to interpretation.
And then comes the chorus’ confession. He misses this person after only a short period of time, and the emotion constantly causes pangs. But the symbol of the sun not shining reaffirms that he will see them again—the sun can’t hide forever, and one day it will be bright again. But only upon their reunion.
Really, Smile is about hope. So maybe, just maybe, it’s not as separated from the other tracks of No Code as I previously mentioned. The sun may not be shining, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a bright side.
Off He Goes
For those of you playing along at home, please keep in mind that the sequencing of Off He Goes, Habit and Red Mosquito back-to-back-to-back was done intentionally. There is a reason these three tracks are placed together smack dab in the middle of the album; there's a deeper connection behind these three songs than people tend to realize. The only reason I mention it is because many have claimed that No Code lacks cohesion, especially with the placement of Habit in between Off He Goes and Red Mosquito. We'll explore this idea deeper after we've gotten through Red Mosquito, but it's something to keep in mind for the next three tracks.
So we begin with Off He Goes, a song about a troubled friendship. But before we explore the narrative, let's begin with the music. Yes, that strange, alt-country backing behind the troubled lyrics. Again, I can relate to how off-putting this sounded to Pearl Jam fans at the time, but that was the point (I don't think I have to spend time trying to convince anyone that No Code was supposed to be a drastically different sound for the band). For some, Off He Goes gets a bad rap because of it. The music is mellow, sad and somber, which at the very least matches the lyrical content. I don't know how a musician would equate tears into notes and chords, but if they did, they'd sound a lot like some of Mike's guitar sounds, most notably right before the "And now I rub my eyes" line. The music as a whole symbolizes a mood, which is obviously explored deeper within the lyrics.
The song is broken down into three distinct parts: a disturbed man leaving his friend, the man thinking about his departed friend, and finally, the friend's return and re-disappearance. The narrator never specifically reveals why his friend is troubled (the "riding on a motorbike in the strongest winds" image is a great analogy to describe how his trouble has manifested itself physically), but does leave a few clues: "Said he'll see me on the flip side, on this trip he's taken for a ride." A flip side infers that the friend's experiences while away vs. his life at home are at two opposite ends of the spectrum, perhaps physically but most likely emotionally. We'll learn later on that the friend can be strong and enjoy himself with the narrator, so these trips of his leave him weak and buried with burden. He so dreads this off-time that he refuses to properly present himself in dress ("his perfectly unkempt clothes"). He feels no shame in allowing his outside appearance to match his internal feelings.
Now he's gone, and the narrator is left to ponder about his friend. These two have a history together ("we go way back"), and the narrator cares for him a great deal. "I wonder about his insides, it's like his thoughts are too big for his size." First, how many people, in your own personal lives, do you care enough about to wonder about their insides? And "insides," not just as their current state of mind, but as everything that has molded them into who they are today? The narrator knows this person, but doesn't quite fully understand him ("He's been taken where I don't know"). These two facts combine to create a very frustrated narrator, but not to the point that he's ready to dismiss his friend. He still keeps a picture of him around, to remind him of their friendship. And maybe to feel a little hope inside as well.
And after the tearful guitar solo, the story is concluded—to a point. Ed's vocal delivery in the song's final lines is astounding. Listen to the surprise in his voice upon recognition of his friend's return; or the baritone confidence upon the realization that his friend still smiles and is still strong; or the overwhelming joy of the laughter their reunion produces; or, finally, the sadness when he sees his friend's strain resurface on his face. The narrator runs an emotional gamut, and Ed nails each emotion consecutively, without the use of vocal overdubs. This is a fine example of how Ed, at the time, was perfecting the art of his vocal nuances and using them to his benefit, as well as to the songs' benefit as well.
But alas, this story doesn't have a happy ending. The friend is gone again, and keeps going and going until he fades from sight (as the music fades from our ears). The narrator's friend's behavior has proven to be cyclical, but the song leaves absolutely no clue as to why or how, at least within Off He Goes as a stand alone piece. Keep in mind the song that follows, Habit, and that one of the last lines of this song is "Nothing's changed but the surrounding bullshit—that has grown." Perhaps Ed was leaving us with a bit of a cliffhanger? But let's not jump the gun just yet. Right now we're simply left with a troubled friend, out there in the wilderness with someone loyal waiting in the wings. How long he'll wait before he stops turning a blind eye and his frustrations get the best of him? Well...stay tuned.
The narrator of Habit is an angry fellow. His raspy voice reeks of strain and wear, as if he's been screaming forever. And why is he screaming? Because he's preaching. A lot of times, the word "preach" carries a negative connotation usually associated with condescension. That may very well be true. But sometimes it just so happens that the preacher isn't looking down on his audience, but forcefully offers genuine words of wisdom. And in some instances, people can't hear us unless we scream. Whispering is for secrets; shouting is for making your point loud and clear.
So what is the narrator shouting about? The subject of Habit suffers from some sort of co-dependency, but it's not necessarily liquor or drugs (though that could easily be construed as the explicit meaning). The word "habit" means a ritual, and nothing more. Because of urban English, we've been conditioned to think the word is associated with some sort of addiction, but that's simply not the case. A habit is a tendency, not a dependency. But within the lyrics presented to us, the habit of question could very well be someone coping with an addiction or someone locking themselves away (a victim of depression). All we really know is that the narrator isn't going to stand for it anymore, and pleads that this person changes their behavior.
He comes off brash, but not unsympathetic. The key line in the song is "it's not your way." Say it out loud and ask yourself where and when you would say this to another person. The narrator knows this person well enough to make such a claim, and speaks from experience ("seen it happen to a couple of friends/seen it happen and the message it sends"). Though he most likely hasn't suffered this affliction, whatever it may be, he's seen the consequences in his life experience with others. He wants to save this person, plain and simple.
Yet he's not coy or cute in his explanation—he comes straight out and speaks to the person without dancing around the issue:
"Taking off for what's an obvious fall" (re: you're smart enough to know better)
"I'm so happy with my righteous self" (re: I get along fine and don't have to resort to your way of life)
"Never thought you'd habit" (re: I'm extremely disappointed in you)
That last line in particular is quite note-worthy. First, the narrator uses the noun "habit" as a verb, which lingually makes no sense. Perhaps it's a pun, meant to mean "have it." Again, since this habit is never clarified or explained, it would make sense that it's reduced to the word "it." People have habits; it's not uncommon to hear someone preface an admission with "I have a habit of...". But more importantly, let's look at the first three words in conjunction with "habit" and whatever that expression is meant to imply. "Never thought you'd." The narrator is laying a guilt trip on this person. He's beyond understanding and grandstanding—he wants the person to know what the fuck he feels. He's past the point of wearing kid gloves; he needs this person to examine his/her self and how outsiders see their plight. It's a call for humble humiliation, but moreso it's a call for that person to really examine themselves. This is tough love, through and through.
And, once again, the music reflects this perfectly. The guitars are loud and angry, and the tempo waaaayyyy past upbeat, courtesy of the rhythm section. The punk rock riff tells the listener that it doesn't give a fuck about being polite or subtle, echoing the narrator's lyrical intentions.
So where does this leave us? Again, no questions are answered within the song itself. But whomever the narrator is addressing, they need some time alone to think about it.
Red Mosquito is about confronting your personal demons. Drenched in symbolism and visuals, it allows the listener to take from it whatever they will, but still maintains the aforementioned theme to remain universally adaptive. And it's also, in my opinion, the final chapter in a song trilogy/story (Off He Goes-->Habit-->Red Mosquito). But more on that later.
The first verse presents us with a narrator who's trapped. He's watching the world outside from a window in a room, accompanied only by a red mosquito (or, the devil). We have no idea why or how he's in this room, but he's been there all night, awake the whole time. What's important here is that he's captive ("I was not allowed to leave the room"). For whatever reason, he's confined. And perhaps not necessarily by the mosquito itself.
Then the chorus offers us a bit of an explanation. "I was bitten," he sings, obviously by the mosquito. Let's consider what an insect bite does: it stings you and/or injects you with a poison that causes a bad reaction within the makeup of the human body. But keep in mind that the mosquito is the devil, and when the devil is in one's bloodstream, it's called possession. Demonic possession is temporary, hence the lyric "he was just paying me a little visit, reminding me of his presence." The devil rubs the narrator's face in it, making him aware that he's waiting for him to submit. Because that's what the devil does. He waits for moments of weakness and exploits them.
And at this point, the narrator has reached a moment of clarity, at least to a degree. He openly accepts the fact that something is wrong and that there is some sort of problem. Blind eyes don't see what's in front of them, right? This is his moment of clarity, or realization that he cannot deny that the devil is traveling with and within him. In the first verse, he's admitting to something being wrong in a first-person point of view. In the second verse, he switches to the second-person. Now he's preaching.
"Red man's your neighbor, call it behavior." The devil (now, interestingly enough, seen as a full-grown human and not a bug) is in direct proximity of where you live. Why? Because of behavior, or a habitual way of living.
"...While you're climbing up slippery hills." Whatever it is that you're doing, you're trying to ascend but in realty you're going nowhere. Even if you do reach a higher altitude, you're destined to fall again and again and again.
"Hovering just above your bed." Not once does the narrator make this point, but twice. Besides reiterating the devil as your neighbor theme, it brings the point home, literally. One's bed is a place of rest, comfort and leisure, and is meant for sleep (an escape from consciousness). In the first verse we learned that the narrator did not sleep all night, this is why: the devil was floating atop him, and once the narrator realized this, it scared the ever-loving shit out of him, and he's now trying to make clear that the devil floats atop all of us when we're at our most vulnerable. Most importantly, he understands that we're all subjected to our own demons (victims of an affliction), and we have to help each other through them. He says so much by his readmission of his experience in the chorus that follows.
And regarding that second chorus, I'd like to point out one thing: whereas in the first chorus Ed sings "reminding me of his presence," in the second I swear that he sings "reminding me of his presents." The devil is offering a bribe (re: tempting) for the narrator's soul. The first trick the devil ever pulled on mankind was temptation, as per the Garden of Eden story. It's an old trick , but one that keeps on working and working and working.
Finally, we have the outro. The music changes tempo, moving from that frantic guitar sound to a more soothing, rhythmic collection of chords and beats. And the narrator offers his final words: "If I'd had known then what I know now." He's found some sort of redemption, not from a higher power, but from within. No one came to rescue him; he's rescued himself. He exorcised the demons without the help of God. Thematically, Red Mosquito is a callback to Sometimes. We only find true strength when we worship ourselves, because pleas for help from above often go unanswered.
So what is this trilogy that I speak of? It's simple, really. Off He Goes tells us about a man whose friend continually disappears. Habit tells us that the friend disappears because he's a slave to some sort of addiction. And Red Mosquito is about the friend detoxing and realizing that he's wandered the wrong path. I'll explain no further, because I ask you all to listen to these three songs and consider my hypothesis. Discussion, as always, is more than welcomed.
Have you ever been so frustrated by life that you seek a place as a refuge? Somewhere you can go and not be judged by a dominant perception of who you are, but instead actually be welcomed for who you really are? This is the dilemma that the narrator of Lukin has to deal with. He yearns to escape from his public self and find peace in the company of a friend that doesn't see him as a projected image. He sees him as a person.
Ed's lyrics are autobiographical here. In an interview from last year, we've been informed of the female stalker that inspired this song. But that doesn't mean we can't all relate to how the narrator is feeling. He's a man who simply wants to be left alone, but the world will not let up. He's angry, anti-social and tired. Lukin is his temper tantrum: short and direct. Fuck the world and everyone in it. Except for maybe just one other person.
"I'm going to Lukin's
I've got a spot at Lukin's
I knock the door at Lukin's
Open the fridge, now I know life's worth."
"Now I know life's worth." I think we all have a Lukin in our lives - someone we can turn to when everything just completely overwhelms you. The narrator yearns to find peace, and presumes to do so in the company of this Lukin character, for reasons unexplained. Perhaps they share a past together, and the narrator revels in that memory when Lukin is around. Or perhaps Lukin just brings the best out of people and can instantly cheer the narrator up. It makes no difference. A space around Lukin is the cure to whatever ailment the narrator suffers from.
The narrator of Lukin is a man reaching out. Maybe not for help, but for a distraction from his present state of mind. Something haunts him, and he needs a release. We'll never know if he finds it or not. But he does have someone and somewhere to turn to, so at the very least there's hope that all is not lost yet.
After the fast fury of Lukin comes No Code's centerpiece, Present Tense. Here, we re-visit themes touched on in earlier songs: spirituality (Sometimes), living for today (Who You Are), the comfort of friendship (Off He Goes), etc. If Sometimes is the starter song that stands for everything No Code is about, then we can call Present Tense the thematic bookend. The following three songs after Present Tense certainly have their place in the album, but Present Tense is final explicit explanation of what No Code means and how the listener should hear it.
The lyrics begin with the tree symbol, a callback to In My Tree. But the two songs differ; In My Tree offers a narrator reflecting on his own life, while Present Tense offers a narrator trying to teach someone else what he has learned, and hopes for the subject to learn it as well.
"Do you see the way that tree bends?
Does it inspire?
Leaning out to catch the sun's rays
A lesson to be applied"
The tree stands not only as a symbol, but also gives a beautiful visual. Part of the brilliance of the visual rests on how the listener sees this tree. Do you see a tree with no leaves on the branches, begging for light and growth, or do you see a big, bushy tree with beautiful leaves? Also, let's not forget that the narrator doesn't say that the branches are bending. The whole tree is bending. It's not one particular branch, or small part of the tree, reaching for the light. It's the whole damn thing. The lesson begins by telling us that if we're gonna reach for a better life, we have to do so 100%. We have to put our whole selves out in the open to assure any growth.
The second verse also mentions light, but in a more abstract way. The narrator wants to know if his friend believes in the afterlife by asking if he/she believes we'll ascend off into the light. Once again, Ed uses the same symbol and it has two entirely different meanings. This time, the light isn't just a positive disposition - it's the afterlife. The symbol of light goes from the physical to the metaphysical in two simple verses. The light also represents hope in both instances. Both of these verses, really, are quite hopeful. The narrator sounds so pretty while trying to help his friend find some comfort and tranquility in this life.
"It seems that needlessly it's getting harder
To find an approach on a way to live
Are you getting something out of this
All encompassing trip?"
The first part of this pre-chorus is chock full of empathy. The narrator knows that sometimes life is just fucked up, and we're never really given a reason why. But again, he asks a question: are we taking something from life? Can we find even a glimmer of light that shines to guide us down the path, or are we just giving up? The narrator wouldn't ask this question unless he knew that there are indeed good things to extract from our time here. The sun is shining somewhere, and it's our duty to find it for ourselves.
The narrator then becomes a bit confrontational, in both the words he sings in the chorus as well as how Ed delivers them. His troubled friend, much like the antagonist of Lukin, needs some tough love. He/she mires in recluse, reliving the past (or, redigesting - what a great, loaded verb). What's clever about the chorus is a slight change between the first and the second.
1st chorus: You're the only one who can forgive yourself
2nd chorus: You're the only one who cannot forgive yourself
Can and cannot are opposites, but they end up meaning the same thing within the context of the lyric. The narrator's friend dwells on something that everyone else can forgive, but for whatever reason, he/she won't. It's almost a self-obsession that borders on self-hatred. All the pieces are there for this person to live a life, and the narrator boldly lets him know that. Really, what it all comes down to is this: there is today. That's it. "Makes much more sense to live in the present tense." Look outside, man. There's a beautiful world right before your eyes. And that world doesn't care about the things you did. It doesn't care about the things you will do. It only cares about what you're doing right now. Come to terms with your past and today isn't nearly as scary as you may think.
All these words and ideas are set to a gorgeous, clean guitar. But after the narrator is done preaching, the rest of the band kicks in accompanied by Ed's chanting. He may be singing actual words, or he may not be. It doesn't matter. It's all about the energy here. He's passing it along to his friend in need, and boy does he need it. Then during the outro, the clean guitar comes back, blissfully blessing the narrator's friend with beauty. It assures us that somehow, someday, some way, he'll be all right. Hope has come full circle, and once that seed of hope is planted, growth is inevitable.