I’m prone to musical obsessions. I own it; and I publicly apologize to those close to me who’ve been forced to endure through them. The most forceful obsessions are always the ones that take the longest to justify. When my partner asked me why I was so attached to my current obsession, it took time. One short answer is that I’m often captivated by love songs that aren’t about people. The cover version is the first one I heard, and I have a strong fondness for strings over keyboard, but the original is the original.
The original has an eerie weirdness to it. The strange keyboard effects and reverberating vocals give it an almost surreal quality.
A cover by the Punch Brothers
I personally like the intimacy and immediacy of the strings, and small room vocals of the cover better, and the dramatic pauses are very dramatic, but the writer of those lyrics has my undying admiration.
The most potent element is the lyrics. I like narrative songs, especially ones about voyaging. This story, in first person narration, tells of an explorer, completely absorbed by his ship and the quest. The ambitious rhyme scheme is made even more compelling by the force and momentum of the story. This is a man passionately in love, but not with a person. His love for his ship, The Annabel Lee, is embodied and ardent. The sole survivor during an Arctic expedition, he isn’t alone, but rather, held in the loving embrace of his Annabel Lee. He’s rescued, but like Poe, can make no life for himself without his Annabel Lee. Returned by his would-be rescuers to “the old world,” a broken man, he dreams of his love in a world beyond this one, and his only happiness is knowing that she, at least, still explores.
It’s a kind of insanity; the kind of insanity that fires the intrepid, the adventurous, the discoverers, the foolhardy. He’s a charismatic visionary, driven, not quite at home in the mundane world of human attachments. He has no doubts, and he can embrace a vast and awesome solitude. This is kind of the polar opposite of me, which is maybe why it draws me in so thoroughly.
And the music is worthy. Changeable in rhythm and tempo, sometimes meditative sometimes driving, it communicates the emotional content without words. The virtuosity in the cover version speaks for itself. I especially like the way base and treble strings are used to communicate menace and ecstasy.
It’s not a simple song, which doesn’t by any means automatically constitute obsession material. The use of words is, in places, deliberately playful: “And the waves that once lifted us sifted instead into drifts against Annabel’s sides.” This may not look like much in print, but try singing it. It puts me in mind of the poem The Cremation of Sam McGee, Recited here by Johnny Cash
and put pleasantly to music here
by someone on YouTube named Jamoof, with it’s rigorous rhyme and harrowing narrative.
The reaction of our brains to music is complex and dazzling. Check out this article for some of its incredible effects. I’d love to see an MRI of my brain while listening to Another New World; I imagine the whole thing lighting up like a Christmas tree. I wonder if all musical obsessions would have that effect: probably not. This is a rare conjunction of musical and linguistic complexity. It uses metaphorical and alliterative language to tell a story that engages emotion. My cerebrum must look like an arcade game. Oh, thank you music!