Wow In Music – Driving With The Brakes On
Kobus Cilliers | On 18, Dec 2019
It’s difficult for me to think of a band more criminally underrated than Del Amitri. I can’t think of a weak track across the course of their half dozen albums released between 1985 and 2002 – including some of the best B-sides by any band ever – and any of the variants of their Greatest Hits albums is a non-stop cavalcade of great tunes, greater middle-eights and supremely singable choruses. And yet they were never really fashionable, caught as they were in a post-punk period when rhythm finally won the battle against melody. I could probably have picked any of a dozen of their songs to feature in this section of the ezine, but ultimately, it had to be Driving With The Brakes On, the second single and final track on their 1995, fourth album, Twisted.
The song is a hook-y, slow ballad featuring a number of wow moments. Starting, before the song even starts with the intriguingly contradictory title. When the music begins, it begins with a Casio-like programmed ultra-precise drum loop that counts the song in and sets the beat, which is then later countered (Principle 37) by the kicking in of a real snare drum that is so off-beat it almost feels like it’s from a drummer who isn’t able to hear what the rest of the band is playing. It shouldn’t work, but, when the snare starts, it serves to take the second half of the song to a whole new level. This level then gets boosted again by one of main songwriter, Justin Currie’s best Middle-8 sections.
I love a good (Principle 3) Middle 8. Especially when it’s not in the middle of the song (Principle 4). A good Middle 8 is an opportunity to break out of the verse-chorus pattern common to most popular music. In a lot of ways, it serves as the resolution of a conflict. Both musically – where the melody is usually a twisted or lifted jump to a new pattern – and also lyrically. Most people think a song is ‘about’ the subject matter contained in the chorus. While that might be the case superficially – the ‘good’ meaning – the Middle 8 offers us the ‘real’ meaning.
The verses tell us that Driving With the Brakes On is ostensibly about a couple having an argument in a car, ‘trying to figure who’s right and who’s wrong’. The chorus gives us another lovely contradiction:
“It’s hard to say you love someone
And it’s hard to say you don’t.”
And then, almost at the end of the song, comes the Middle 8:
“But unless the moon falls tonight
Unless continents collide
Nothing’s gonna make me break from her side”
They might be arguing, but the Middle 8 tells us, from the singer’s side at least, it will be okay.