Pop music has always had a monomaniacal, Ahab-like way of approaching the subject of love, paired with a solipsistic, Hamlet-like way of expressing the sentiment. To take a quote from Harold Bloom, “Poetry, particularly Shakespeare’s, teaches us how to talk to ourselves, but not to others.” The love poetry of rock and pop becomes not an expression towards the lover, but an expression towards the self. This is why the lover in question is often invisible in songs, with the expresser so clear. Even as the listener, although we feel as if we identify with the protagonist, it is with ourselves, through the protagonist, that we most closely understand. There are exceptions to this, notably Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me,” in which the expressive voice and the lover subject fall back in security against a visionary foreground of fear and destruction. However, as stated above, this solipsism is so frequent and strong that it branches into the unknowing metaphysical realm of solipsism, where lovers become ideals and nothing exists outside of the storyteller. Indeed, when presented the world within the song, all representations hinge on the singer and do not exist as figures independent. “Peggy Sue” is not Peggy Sue without the framework of Buddy Holly; “Lovesong” is nobody and nothing without the character of Robert Smith.
A prime example of this sort of portrayal in The Fresh & Onlys’ Long Slow Dance can be found in the song “Dream Girls.” Being about exactly as the title suggests, the track portrays the unattainable as both creator and destroyer. For the singer, they portray the image of unintentional destruction, “Dream girls don’t know what they’re doin’/ Float ‘round ruin everything they touch.” Yet for all they exist as characters, it’s the perception of the singer that takes them past one dimensionality. For all the “lives that they ruin,” they don’t escape the constant watch of the singer as they “Smile ‘til they’re blue/ And then their faces fall.” Even the notion of “Dream Girls” rests on the qualities not described by the singer, showing the protagonist as either absent of their dream-like qualities or that these characters don’t exist without the negative brush, furtively a dream of both the song and the portrayer. Even within its shallow objectification, there is so much depth involved in the song that deconstruction from multiple angles would provide a different view every time. At one angle, the singer watches cruelty unfold from beauty un-described and granted. From another angle, as stated above, they don’t even exist, except within the love-addled brain of the “I” (expressed as metaphorical “you”). From yet another angle, their humanizing qualities are destroyed by the shallow observers that love makes us, turning them into “dream girls” as they exit themselves and become expressions of the song.
And to boot, this is one of the weaker songs of the album, next to “Executioner’s Song.” All sentiments within are expressed much more boldly and succinctly in every other song on the album, especially “20 Days and 20 Nights,” “Presence of Mind,” “Fire Alarm,” and “Long Slow Dance.” Like Hamlet, characters speak at each other, not with (“When we lived in the water/ You said you wanted fire/ And so I gave you fire/ You kicked it in the water”), and it’s this portrayal that is so wonderfully executed on Long Slow Dance. The details become the sweat of expression — even the Western pastiche horns of “Executioners Song” aid to the image of the solipsist in love. Old West figures have a classic way of expressing the world in front of them based on their own terms, and this song (again, one of the weakest) fits the expression.
Sound-wise, the album is gorgeous and perfectly placed, natch. Although I’ve spent so much space and breath on the thematic qualities of Long Slow Dance, the actual sounds might be the strongest force of the album. Noting how well placed Wymond Miles’ guitar elaborations are, as well as the other precise formalities of the songs, it’s safe to bet that the main focus in the creation of Long Slow Dance was towards the aspects undercurrent and aiding to the theme. It feels criminal to spend so much time on theoretical and thematic elements when the song-structuring detail has been so painstakingly labored over. However, any returning fan of The Fresh & Onlys will come to expect this sort of labor, and its excellence in execution will not come off as a surprise.
So before you go dismissing The Fresh & Onlys’ Long Slow Dance as an atypical batch of love songs, know that it both is and is not. Not a form of juxtapositions or trickster-ism either, but an expression of repetition from multiple angles, each as true as the other while existing solely in their own world. “It’s one long/ So called/ Slow dance/ Forever” presents a great thesis for both the album and the history of love songs to be and have been.
01. 20 Days and 20 Nights
02. Yes or No
03. Long Slow Dance
04. Presence of Mind
05. Dream Girls
06. Fire Alarm
07. Executioner’s Song
08. No Regard
10. Foolish Person
11. Wanna Do Right By You