Firing Squad
This song started life as a character sketch framed loosely around a night spent smoking cigarettes in a Manhattan church, and ended up being more of a statement about the pursuit of fame for fame's sake. After a couple of days writing and rewriting it, I found it just wasn't quite working. I took it to my friend Jack Hardy, who suggested that since the song starts out in a church I could try to use religious metaphor to help put across the central theme of the song. I took Jack's advice and rewrote some sections of the song (specifically the second chorus) in order to bring the religious metaphor back into the picture in a way that strengthens the idea (fame for fame's sake) explored in the second verse.
We smoked cigarettes in St. Mary of Zion's
I told you I loved you, you knew I was lying
The heat I'd sequestered inside me was dying
Just prior to midnight

You walked off for hours, or it seemed so to me
With my head and my heart and my lighter empty
As the alter up front it became a marquee
With your name written up there in lights

Your face was the stained glass, a rectory shattered
Believe it or not tell me what does it matter
There's only the two of us here
With this ghost of a god
When I go I know that I'll not be a martyr
Our souls are the last thing we have left to barter
So turn tell and run
Or face up to the firing squad

The cafe was drenched in the haze of obsession
Your voice just a choir of poorly-learned lessons
I fell in lockstep with a funeral procession
We marched away all one by one

I heard ladies weeping just outside the door
But I never knew who all their anguish was for
I joined in with their tears and I fell to the floor
Crying my god, let thy will be done

Your face was a frame in The Vatican hanging
My heart a church bell that's just ringing and ringing
The speed of the sound of the silence
That hangs in the air
The memories wound round my head in a crown of dread
Words that were written and ones that were left unsaid
The loom of this world
Weaves this beautiful sadness we wear

The moon is a kite and she's tethered to levers
Inside of me somewhere I'll fight her forever
But sometimes she pulls me and I'll go along for the ride
So open your eyes for the first time and see me
I'm standing before you all broken and bleeding
On crutches I'm leaning just let me stay with you tonight

The Poet
This song was written for a dear friend of mine, but can be pretty broadly applied to most of my friends. It's pretty self-explanatory from a lyrical standpoint. From a writing standpoint, I used a lot of internal or "inline rhyme" but for me the most interesting thing about the song from the technical side is the complete lack of simile.
The Poet stands among his fans, the last of them a dying breed
Waits patiently for their empty applause
To hollow out the robots and make room for ghosts to live in there
The murderous machines will bear the burden for us all

But he could be so easily persuaded to believe in anything that wears a dress
God bless his easy heart
God bless this awful mess

The pharaoh signs his concubine's name on a tomb, a golden room
He carved for her as if it were his own
And fills his chest with emptiness so now her ghost is free to roam
His coin, his crown, his queen mean nothing now that she has gone

But he could be so easily persuaded to believe in anything that wears a dress
God bless his easy heart
God bless this awful mess

How we're beset upon all sides by fiction, fallacy and lies
God damn the blue inside of you
That finds it's way out through
The iris of your eyes

The Poet stands a broken man, the last of them it won't be long
The masses have no need it seems for simile in song

But I could be so easily persuaded to believe in any phrase that plays her part
God bless my easy heart
God bless my easy heart

Barrio Moon
This is a pretty straightforward love song. It's written as a waltz, and to me it evokes a crowded and calamitous urban scene in a tropical setting. From a song geek perspective, my favorite bit of the song is when it goes to a major third chord in the buildup at the end. This pulls the song in a slightly different direction just for a moment and gives an added tension that makes that part of the song really stand out to the listener.
Barrio Moon shine if you can
On the four-chambered room she holds in her hand
So full of red wine that I can hardly stand

Barrio Moon leave if you must
A trail of perfume and angel dust
If we make the sunrise it'll be only just

Barrio Moon shine in her eyes
The stars are platoons of horses she rides
But all the king's horses and the queen's expensive jewels
Could not shine as bright
As she does tonight
Under the light of this Barrio Moon

Breathless, 99
The obvious themes here are vice and addiction, but it's also obvious there's more to it than that. Lyrically, as the song progresses the relationship between the two characters is more considered. In the second verse the careful listener finds that the relationship between these two characters is deeper than it would initially appear, and this in turn causes the chorus and the bridge to become more complex in scope and meaning.
Out on 99, the cheapest room that we could find
Sharing lines we made love for the last time so far
And the drugs were just a way to justify that it's okay
For me to leave you next day as we fought at the bar

Look away, look away
Pretend I never knew you
Pretend I never used you
In the way that I do
Look away, look away
Maybe someday you'll lose me
Honey don't hold your breath unless your red lips turn blue

Drinking beer on the pier with your friends they all were sailors
On a boat just like a trailer, god I loved you just then
With the sun in your hair and all the gulls on the air
How they sang of some far-away we might've been

Look away, look away
Pretend you never knew me
Pretend you never used me
In the way that you do
Look away, look away
Maybe someday you'll lose me
Honey don't hold your breath unless your red lips turn blue

Driving me home you were larger than life
And the way your eyes shone was the blade of a knife
Still I took you and I twisted you around

Out on 99, the cheapest room that we could find
Sharing lines we made love for the last time so far

Bandolier
This song begins in a fairly abstruse way, but becomes more clear as it progresses. Another love song this time with fewer fond memories. The morose hostility and perverseness of many of the metaphors lends a sense of bitterness to the narrative without ever having to explicitly spell it out for the listener. The pronounced use of alliteration in the first and last verses creates a nice symmetry that -- from a technical perspective -- ties the whole song together.
The air is alive with sneezes and screams
The tearing of tendons the hatching of schemes
Who am I to pretend that I know what it means
Who are we to be judging you now

Float away on the lids that you tore from my eyes
With a shirt from my drawer your main sail
All the young men in training to don the disguise
That you once taught me so well to wear

Mentholated is the smoke that you blow
You lost all your money in the traveling show
What am I supposed
To do with you now

Let it go 'cause there's no one who cares for you now
You can show you're own way to the door
Torn apart by the dogs when you leapt from the bow
For the cream-colored collar you wore

Shut me out
Shut your mouth
'Cause I've been here before
On the plateau of promises empty you swore
With a bare bandolier my poor heart marched to war
To be slain like the rest within sight of your shore

Once A Builder
Musically very straight-forward, this song relies heavily on phrasing and melody. An odd metered rhyme scheme and an upbeat, bouncing rhythm counter-balance the repetitive nature of the chord progression and help make the song musically interesting. Lyrically, I never stray too far from the builder metaphor that is the central idea of the song.
Come but tread lightly
The way is laid with traps
This is all too much for me
Dragonflies and lizard's eyes that blink unevenly
So come but tread lightly
I just might be waiting still

You were once a builder
You fashioned all your lovers from pearl snaps
All your ash and cinder sheets
Born of fire they end up spires that shade the city streets
And you were once a builder
Now bewildered have they run you through their mill

How they look to you
How they look to you to heal whatever's left now
Of their broken brittle hearts
'Cause you were once a builder
Now your skills are honed for taking things apart

Come but tread lightly
I've laid the way with traps

Saccharin
Easily the most abstruse song on an album of abstruse songs, the underlying theme of Saccharin is concerned with physical violence and inter-family abuse. The narrative is disguised using a series of nightmarish fairytale metaphors. The use of a single rhyme at the end of each of the four lines comprising the verse lends a sense of urgency to the song and helps to drive home the starkness of the imagery.
Your father the merman he took your small hand
And he led you stark naked to the many-tongued man
Who then fed you on vinegar-soaked saccharin
And he held you like fire in the palm of his hand

Oh the conch that you wore around your neck as a charm
He carved into a pistol tattooed on your arm
When you broke free he used it to sound the alarm
And he found you and beat you 'til your blood ran warm

Down your face
Now your jaw's out of place
The unusual taste of your teeth in your throat
And the blade that you'll use
Once his grip has grown loose
It grows sharper with each landed blow

And your mother the sea lion she primps and she preens
She's so gaudy and bloated the corpse of a queen
How she envied your feathers and hated your wings
And she left you to die there when you were fourteen

With her whiskers on fire her eyes are so still
She's alive but just barely through force of sheer will
And her breath is so labored her voice it's so still
Says her only regret is that she won't outlive you

She hates
For the sake of itself
Oh and you hate her too
But feel sorry somehow
And the world will be safe
For the fruit of your womb
When they lay the lion down into her tomb

Your father the merman, the trident he bore
And the power he held o'er the outcome of war
And you're mother the lioness, a dead man who swore
With his many tongues how he would strike you no more

A Sketch
A song about not seeing the whole picture, at the time of this writing this is my favorite song on the record. Notice how the verses that come after the choruses are just a natural continuation of the narrative. Also notice how the last line of each verse (and the bridge) all share the same rhyme. This allows the first line of the chorus to remain in rhyme and thereby helps increase the sense of continuation between the verses and choruses. The final chorus is a bit different lyrically from the first two. This was necessary for putting across the central idea of the song, but has the added bonus of preventing the song from getting too monotonous.
Open your mouth and let the words in
Spit 'em back out, repeat 'em again
'Til we can pretend that all the echoes are real

This is not what you feel
It's only a sketch
In the temple you'll kneel down to an ungrateful wretch
All the layers are peeled to reveal how we've stretched
Our poor hearts to the limit

To the point where they'll break, and the shattering rain
Stirs a desert awake all the interest you fein
Hardly hides the disdain that you try to conceal

This is not what you feel
It's only a sketch
In the temple you'll kneel down to an ungrateful wretch
All the layers are peeled to reveal how we've stretched
Our poor hearts to the limit

And here at the end, they'll come back again
Whispering whims that they shouldn't reveal
This is not what you feel
Not what you feel
Not what you feel

So open your eyes, god you're so dead inside
All the widowers wives watch the walls come alive
And their fear is revived they taste the ache in their heels
This is not what you feel
It's only a sketch
The truth is too real, too compound and complex
And you'll never reveal whatever move you'll make next
Honey I've reached my limit

What I Meant
The juxtaposition of a bouncing rhythm track and a somewhat harsh tone lyrically is the crucial element that causes this song to work. The unusual melody combines with the upbeat and bouncing rhythm to help soften the lyrical blow so to speak. Thematically, the song explores the relationship between choice and predestined outcome.
The nerve of you I swear with your long legs in the air
Your nylons with their tear just at the knee

Hey there get ready this'll only hurt a minute
I said close your eyes and I meant it
Hey there hold steady this is only the beginning
I said shut your mouth and I meant it

Machines that you can't see they built you in a factory
And told you who to be and what to love

Hey there get ready this'll only hurt a minute
I said open fire and I meant it
Hey there hold steady this is only the beginning
I said walk that wire and I meant it

The walls that you walked through the arms you fell into
The rooms you've painted blue to match your eyes

Hey there get ready this'll only hurt a minute
I said hold your breath and I meant it
Hey there hold steady this is only the beginning
I said raise your dress and I meant it

Pleistocene
Pleistocene of course refers to the geological epoch that preceded the current epoch. It's most commonly associated with the last great ice age. The song explores the notion that at times the world can be seen as a great machine that's turning and causing all of history to repeat in a cyclical manner. It then delves deeper into that machine to draw a comparison between the repetition of history and the repetition of an individual's follies and mistakes, making the statement that at times individuals themselves can be likened to an array of springs and cogs all stoking the fire and generating the steam that keeps the whole big, beautiful clockwork spinning.
The Romans erected great structures to burn
All the Christians and the Christians burned witches in turn
And the witches had only their own flesh to burn
And black kettles to churn like the sea

Emily told me a long time ago
Of how she was a firebug matches aglow
And that I was the only person to know
'Cause her secret was so safe with me

Oh Pleistocene, oh Pleistocene
How quickly you know what the rest of us mean
For millions of years they've anointed you queen
But now how the machines have broke down

Grandfather killed germans of that much I'm sure
In the crazier days with a world wrapped in war
And the millions who died where so certain they swore
That they'd all see the sun rise tomorrow

And Isabelle died when she was just five
Years old and her mother and father cried both
I held her now soulless form next to mine close
Whispering thank God she never knew sorrow

Oh Pleistocene, oh Pleistocene
How quickly you know what the rest of us mean
For millions of years they've anointed you queen
But now how the machines have broke down

How the machines have broke down
And my heart is in part just a cog that spins 'round
An unwanted guest who resides in my chest
I'll be blessed to be rid of someday

Oh Pleistocene, oh Pleistocene
How your darkness inhabits the space in between
All the worn out projectors and the flat, freckled screen
That cause all of the girls to leave town