Monday, September 20, 2010

Josh Ritter - So Runs the World Away

Rating: A-

Let me start by saying that So Runs the World Away has two of the most beautiful tragic love songs I've ever heard - and one ("The Curse") tells of a romance between a mummy and the Egyptologist who finds him, while the other ("Another New World") tells of somewhat fictionalized Christopher Columbus and his love for his ship The Annabel Lee. These two tracks alone make the album worth picking up, but it has several more standout tracks - up-tempo tunes in "Lantern" and "Long Shadows," a dark lullabye in "Folk Bloodbath," even a menacing stomp worthy of Jack White in "Ratting Locks."

But "The Curse" and "Another New World" - wow. "The Curse" opens with a mummy seeing the woman who discovers him, and the poetry in this verse is breathtaking - "after thousands of years, what a face to wake up to" and "Under miles of stone, the dried fig of his heart / Under scarab and bone starts back to its beating" are two lines. As the mummy and the Egyptologist begin their relationship - spending nights together in the museum where he spends days in a glass display case - she begins to wear down physically as the curse implied by the song's title takes hold. As the mummy gains strength, he travels out into the world, becoming a celebrity along with the Egyptologist. She asks the mummy three times if he's cursed but he only answers "I think that I'm cured." Finally, in the last verse it's revealed that the mummy suspected he was cursed all along. Despite this deception (which ultimately leads to her death) and the implication that the mummy is unfaithful, he is a sympathetic character. After all, having literally been awoken from thousands of years by the sight of her, how could he not love her, even though it would destroy her?

The love in "Another New World," though not literally romantic, is no less destructive or poignant. An aging explorer, suggested to be Christopher Columbus, embarks on a grand journey on his beautiful ship the Annabel Lee to find another world world in the Arctic Circle. When the boat is stuck in the ice and snow and the crew all dies, he is left alone in the Annabel Lee, chopping up her mainsail and burning it for warmth. The cruelty of this act is not lost on the narrator, who anthropomorphizes the ship with lines like "she gave up her body to me" and "I burned her to keep me alive every night / In the loving embrace of her hull." Ultimately he saved, but "won't call it rescue ... [or] pretend that the search for another new world / Was well worth the burning of mine." The song is sung gently over a finger-picked guitar line, the musical starkness echoing the "vast glassy desert of arsenic white."

I'm big into great songwriting, and while I've heard good things about Josh Ritter, I was blown away by So Runs the World Away. It is trite to say songwriting is like poetry, but here it's true. I also see the fantastical prose of Gabriel Garcia Marquez. There aren't many higher compliments.

Buy it from Amazon:
So Runs The World Away
Josh Ritter Official Site

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