Erika Goldring, Getty Images The four members of Little Big Town will…
- Posted on Nov 1st 2007 2:00PM by Anton Hochheim
'Two-Headed Boy,' Neutral Milk Hotel
From 1998's 'In the Aeroplane Over the Sea'
During a self-conducted interview in the Talking Heads concert/movie 'Stop Making Sense,' David Byrne quipped, "The better a singer's voice, the harder it is to believe what they're saying." Although I first dismissed the remark as typical Byrne tongue-in-cheek banter, I often find his words seeping into my consciousness while I lay in bed late at night, drowsily staring at the dimly lit screen of my iPod. Time and again I'm drawn to artists with voices that, although tuneful, remain just a hair's-width away from cracking like a pubescent choirboy's.
No song better demonstrates this notion of unabashed sincerity transcending vocal prowess than Neutral Milk Hotel's 'Two-Headed Boy.' Accompanied only by a ramshackle guitar, you can almost see the veins in Jeff Mangum's neck threatening to burst as he bellows like a drunken sailor lost at sea. His arresting voice precariously teeters between exultation and distress, as if nodding to the song's underlying bittersweet sentiment. The lyrics ooze with surreal imagery you would sooner expect from a David Lynch movie than an indie rock band. Mangum's voice wavers as he tells an impassioned tale of an obscure love affair between a two-headed boy imprisoned in a glass jar and his caretaker. The frantic strumming of guitar grows in intensity as our disfigured protagonist attempts to woo the object of his affection by constructing a makeshift radio out of materials strewn across his glass domain.
Just when it seems like Magnum might actually scream himself into a coma, the hurried pacing of the song falters -- the strumming of guitar becomes slow and deliberate, and his voice woefully subsides into a solitary, wordless chant. The flickering of oddball images that linger afterward in one's head are for the listener to keep -- souvenirs of Magnum's outlandish, visceral world.
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