Nomeansno are the bestest band in the whole wide world. Lawrence, one of our Ruthless readers, wrote in to point out that we keep talking about how great NMN are, but haven’t reviewed any of their albums. We know. The problem is that sitting down and capturing NMN’s brilliance with a keyboard is an intimidating task. I can write all the live-long day about donkey balls bouncing off of R. Kelly’s chin, but how do I explain how and why NMN are better than any other band?
Consequently, I’m not even going to review this whole album beyond saying that it’s not my favorite NMN record, but it’s probably still better than anything in your pathetic little collection. It’s more jazzy and less punk than most of their other stuff, so if you’re a NMN newbie who likes jazzy stuff, this album might be a good starting point. Otherwise, I recommend their more accessible albums like The World-Hood of the World, As Such and Wrong.
So, I’m only going to talk about one song: “The World Wasn’t Built in a Day.” Elsewhere, I’ve railed against taking rock lyrics seriously, and I stand by that. In fact, I just heard an NPR program featuring some dope who, unbelievably, works for The New York Times bleating about the profundity of “Let’s Roll,” Neil Young’s song about 9/11. When they played the song, I actually laughed; it was pure garbage. It wasn’t nearly as funny as the critic’s attempts to make the lyrics into poetry. One line was, “I hope someone knows how to fly this thing.” The critic picked this line out to show how Young had ingeniously put himself into the minds of the people who wrested control of a plane from terrorists. Apparently, only Young is gifted enough to think that these people would be worried about what would happen after they took over the plane.
So, again, rock lyrics are not good reading, or usually, even good listening. Rob Wright’s blend of Sartre and Dr. Seuss is the exception. He’s the only lyricist who impresses me to the extent that I would recommend reading some of his lyrics on their own. “The World Wasn’t Built in a Day” is a story told over minimal music, which is the sort of thing that’s usually good for a few listens at most, but it remains my favorite song on this album after years of listening. The first-person story is of “a waking dream” in which every person the speaker knows dies though an amazing series of coincidences. Instead of being sad, the speaker initially feels that he “is finally free.” That’s a pretty profound observation. Other people have made the same point, but Rob captures it elegantly and is certainly the first to capture this aspect of social life in a rock song. The obligations, expectations and demands of other people are perhaps the greatest barrier to our freedom (see, e.g., Michael Corleone).
So the speaker is free, but soon he discovers that his life is now aimless. He drives around, sings a song to nobody and discovers that the people in his life are his inspiration. We are social animals, so other people are our borders, both defining and limiting us.1 People who think Jim Morrison is a great writer are morons.
The music in this song is restrained, but effective, especially Rob’s passionate wails of:
Your voice from my throat cries
Your heart beats in my chest
From my head stare your eyes
For you I live and die
This loneliness is a lie
This loneliness is a lie!
(For the complete lyrics, see below.)
The above passage and the rest of the song is a rare combination of lyrical and musical power. It’s also only a moment in a catalog stretching back over 20 years in which Nomeansno pull off this kind of thing again and again and again, ad infinum.
1. I don’t think the song has as black and white a meaning as this. I’m just kind of scratching the surface here, but it’s a nice surface, eh?
Mr. B agrees: When Erich says that Rob Wright’s vocals are the exception to the “shit rock music lyric rule,” he speaketh the goddamn truth.
My wife doesn’t like rock or punk music, or music that is slightly aggressive in any way shape or form at all. She likes Benny Goodman, Joni Mitchell, Billy Holiday, Eva Cassidy, etc.
I frequently give her the lyric sheets to Nomeansno songs, and while she doesn’t like the music, she always says, “Those aren’t lyrics, that’s some of the most amazing poetry I’ve ever read!” and believe me, she reads a lot.
Full Lyrics to “The World Wasn’t Built in a Day”:
As I was driving around aimlessly, a waking dream occurred to me
That everyone I knew had died that day
That my friends, co-workers and loved ones, had all just suddenly passed away
Well, there were drunken car crashes, airline disasters, and suicides that were unexplained
And as I drove past familiar scenes, streets and buildings that were a hundred times seen
As a wave of contentment washed over me, I wondered what this could possibly mean
As the sun spilled its warmth over the houses and trees
I felt that I was finally free
But you know what they say
The world wasn’t built in a day
You know what they say
The world wasn’t built in a day (no way)
I picked up a woman in the parking lot of the local Safeway
Well, I had seen her face a hundred times but I never knew her name
And as I drove her home she laughed and she sighed and the strain of the moment passed away
I explained how my father had died, how I had seen his body and never cried
She let her hand fall on my leg and there she let it stray
When I dropped her off she asked me up, I politely said I couldn’t stay
And as she walked to the door, as those bags of groceries gently swayed
I turned the wheel and muttered to myself, “No way, man, no way”
Sunset over the mountains and on the harbour that beneath them lay
In long shadows the traffic lights gleamed, red and green, they traced the way
Through a corridor of sidewalks, where people wandered at the end of their day
I drove to my space on the waterfront, picked up my guitar and started to play
Alone I sang for the people that I knew, for my friends and family, and for them I prayed
That no storm would come and sweep them up, that no winds would bear them away
I sang, “Your voice from my throat cries, your heart beats in my chest,
From my head stare your eyes, for you I live and die!
This loneliness is a lie! This loneliness is a lie!”
The streets were empty as I drove home, the air was cool and the sky was dark
Streetlamps cast their mockery of light over ghostly shapes in an empty night
Should I believe in the things I see? Am I in you? Are you in me?
What should I believe? Tell me. What should I believe?
At home, on the porch, the wind in the trees murmured a background for my waking dream
Where I drive through a city with labyrinth streets, where no one walks, where no voices speak
Where empty towers above me rise toward an empty, starless sky
Like a cold wind washing over me, I saw the meaning of this dream
I felt that I was finally free, I felt that I was finally free
You lie before me sleeping, your eyes flutter in a dream
Am I in you? Are you in me? What should I believe? What should I believe?
But you know what they say… you know what they say