Sunday, July 22, 2012

July 22: Indigo Girls, "Closer To Fine"

Artist: Indigo Girls
Song: "Closer To Fine"
Album: Indigo Girls
Year: 1989

Perhaps the most dangerous and short-sighted thing one can do within the world of music is to write-off a a bands' entire catalog due to their persona or perhaps a singular incident.  No artist or performer is perfect, and each have their own list of unique realities that often define them as a band.  However, as long as their has been music, there have been imaginary lines drawn that attempt to convince listeners that if they enjoy a certain type of music, it is "wrong" of them to like another that may seem to be on the opposite side of the spectrum.  Whether this is the separation between hip-hop and country, punk rock and pop, or any other pairing that society likes to keep apart from one another, they are simply untrue, and those who appreciate music as an art spend ample time in all forms of musical creation.  Yet it is exactly this stereotype that has kept many from the catalog of the duo calling themselves Indigo Girls, and the reality remains that due to their harmonies and brilliant lyrics, along with their longevity in a style that as shown an extraordinary turnover of performers, they remain one of the most important groups of their entire generation.  Though their entire catalog is well worth exploring, and their live releases are certainly on par with their studio efforts, there are few songs that have become as outright definitive of a generation and movement as one can hear in Indigo Girls' superb 1989 single, "Closer To Fine."

Coming during an era when excessive volume and outlandish musical arrangements were very much the accepted norm, one can see the sounds on "Closer To Fine" as a clear sign of the musical trends that were to come over the next few years.  The core of the song revolves around the intertwined acoustic guitars from Amy Ray and Emily Saliers, and it is the way that the pair are able to build such a fantastic mood and energy with this rather simplistic arrangement that makes the song so uniquely engaging.  However, it is also the wide range of more subtle instrumentation across the track that vault "Closer To Fine" to such greatness, as they employ everything from a tin whistle to an Irish bodhrán to slight traces of other percussion on the song.  The combination of all of these sounds quickly envelops the listener, and there is an uplifting, yet somehow curious tone that persists throughout the entire track.  It is the way that the sounds swell and softly sway that would serve as the inspiration for countless artists that would begin performing in their wake, as the team of Ray and Saliers managed to find a new way to present a folk sound within a modern context.  Furthermore, there is an edge and presence to "Closer To Fine" that gives it almost a rock feel, and the fact that they were able to create such a phenomenal sense of mood and tone serves as a testament to their exceptional talents.

Along with their distinctive and refreshing approach to the musical arrangements on "Closer To Fine," there was a similar focus on the shared vocals between Amy Ray and Emily Saliers.  This attempt is made all the better due to the fact that while they each have a superb voice in their own right, when they are combined it quickly becomes far greater than the sum of its parts.  There is an ease and beauty to the way that their voices blend together, and the combined presence of their singing has inspired a long list of imitators, yet never been equaled.  In some ways, one can see the way that the vocals are presented on "Closer To Fine" as almost jazz-line in the way that they seamlessly transition from leads to harmonies, and this also again gives a nod to the folk roots of the band.  However, "Closer To Fine" rises above the rest of the catalog of Indigo Girls due to the extraordinary lyrics that Saliers provided, and there are few songs of the era that can compete on this level.  While many have pondered the "great questions of life" through song, it is the beautiful phrasing here that makes this such a special moment, as Saliers takes on a number of different ways to gain enlightenment, ultimately finding herself more confused than when she began.  This idea to which all can relate is made all the better when she suggests that it is the act of living life that provides all the answers, and those who spend their lives seeking an answer are "missing the point."  It is the way that she wrote these words, as well as the exceptional vocal performance that places "Closer To Fine" so far beyond other songs in the history of recorded music.

Even in an era when there is easy access to a wide range of music, it is perhaps a bit disheartening that listeners still avoid artists and genres based on what the media or their friends or society tells them about the performer in question.  There is nothing wrong with punk rockers listening to classical music or jazz-heads exploring the world of heavy metal; though one can easily make the case that the world of folk has been one of the most negatively portrayed to youth over the past three decades.  Proving that there was far more to the genre than just "a guy and his guitar," Indigo Girls pulled from a massive range of influences, forming them into a style and sound that remains completely unique to this day.  Furthermore, even after more than twenty years since their first album, the duo still stand high atop their subgenre, and this alone is a testament to their talent, as scores of other performers have come and gone in that time.  This is likely due to the completely honest and artistically unique way that they continue to create, and one can easily see their self-titled debut as a pivotal moment in the progression of modern music.  While the team of Amy Ray and Emily Saliers have released a number of excellent albums and singles, there may be no other in their catalog that remains as powerful and outright brilliant as their 1989 single, "Closer To Fine."

1 comment:

Dave Whitaker said...

I just saw the Indigo Girls live for the first time this week. I rank "Closer to Fine" amongst my personal faves.

Very valid points about genres and the silliness of getting locked into them. I think labeling bands by genre can be a handy tool for steering people towards a generalized sound - but people too often use those tags to dismiss entire catalogs of music.

Here's my blog about the concert: