12
Jan 14

DEEP BLUE SOMETHING – “Breakfast At Tiffany’s”

Popular132 comments • 6,060 views

#746, 5th October 1996

dbs It’s by no means a hard-and-fast rule, but if you’re writing a break-up song it’s often a good idea to try to make your protagonist sympathetic, or at least not a fool. Here we have a guy who knows his girlfriend is going to break up with him and clutches at an Audrey Hepburn-shaped straw as evidence that maybe – just maybe – the two still have a chance. Your judgement may rest on whether you think “Breakfast At Tiffany’s” trades in bathos or pathos. Is it a merciless document of the kind of undignified rhetorical lunges men will make to avoid being dumped – or is it supposed to be touching?

Probably both. “We both kinda liked it –“ – this comes across as baffled politeness from the girl, and establishes only the feeblest of rocks to cling to. The attempt to stall an oncoming end is surely doomed. But the song, for all its conversational pretences, isn’t necessarily happening in the real world. As “Breakfast At Tiffany’s” frames with its title, the track nods to romcomland, a special place where predestined lovers ultimately overcome their differences, however unpromising the start.

The song’s clunking reference fits ever so slightly with the zeitgeist, at least. Outside the charts, we’re in the age of early Tarantino films – mixing stylishly choreographed violence with nerdish dissection of cheeseburgers or Madonna – and more pointedly of High Fidelity, with its seductive (if ultimately doomed) intertwining of music taste and romantic destiny. Both nail particular tropes of what will become “geek culture” and its relationship with consumption and preference. “Breakfast At Tiffany’s” shows one logical extension: if being into the right things is a precondition for love – the geek romantic dream – then breaking up when you both like an old film really is an injustice.

Or the man’s a ridiculous whiner. Anyhow, when I first realised I detested this record – a minute or two after I heard it – the lyrics weren’t my only problem. It mixes ingredients in the same broad way the Cranberries do – light indiepop guitar hooks on a bed of mild post-grunge crunch. Neither element does the other any favours. The song is too self-pitying to have any bite, but the attempt to flex its muscles and telegraph serious feelings just underlines how over-sensitive and entitled our hero sounds. Almost no mid 90s American alt-rock made it successfully to Britain – even the fakiest most corporate examples tended to stall or go unreleased. So it’s hard to know how typical this weak effort was, even of the blandest end of modern rock radio. Probably “Breakfast” was a harmless fluke. But to this day I’m annoyed far more than I should be by its sulky self-importance, its overwrought beating on a very puny chest. Just let her go, man!

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Comments

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  1. 101
    Mark M on 14 Jan 2014 #

    I do think that if they did start off wanting to mention Roman Holiday and changed it to Breakfast At Tiffany’s, they at least got that right. Because Roman Holiday is a terrific movie, and Breakfast At Tiffany’s – as Mr Sinker has said – isn’t. But it’s a film that because of the poster, because of Audrey, because of Capote, it would be easy to imagine you (kinda) liked.

    Picture a couple of kids with typical American teen movie-going tastes who meet up at college and go see Breakfast At Tiffany’s at a film club on an early date. It seems a bit sophisticated and old and different and exciting, and maybe she buys the poster and tries styling her hair a bit like AH. And it’s something that lingers as a memory, and then years later one of them catches it on TV and watches it properly and realises that it’s a misbegotten mess, rather grim but not in a good way, with a totally unsatisfactory ending (yes, cool cat, but why on earth would they imagine they had a future together? But I don’t think the film is willing to suggest that they are just fooling themselves). And so not really something you’d want to stake your future on.

    I find the song in its sheer clumsiness weirdly compelling. Whenever it comes up on one of the TV music channels, I’ll watch the (excruciatingly awful) video from beginning to end. Go figure.

  2. 102
    Mark M on 14 Jan 2014 #

    Surely the name of the genre is – as Cher Horowitz says in Clueless – complaint rock.

  3. 103
    Rory on 14 Jan 2014 #

    I would also note that for a certain kind of ’90s music fan, anything rooted largely in guitars/piano/drums/melody was seen as inherently better than music based on synthesizers, beats, samples and all the other sounds that had been infiltrating the charts for 10+ years. I was part of an online discussion group who argued endlessly through the 1990s about similar changes taking place in the music of one particular artist at that very time. But that preference for more familiar pop-rock sounds wasn’t out of preferring blandness or inoffensiveness, because it was perfectly possible for pop-rock to be neither. It was more like not being able to speak another language, yet finding yourself surrounded by it, trying to find words you can understand; when you did, it came as a relief.

    Not me, though; I’ve already handed out one 1996 score of 10 to the diametric opposite of all that we’re talking about here. Bring on the polyglot musical bazaar, I reckon(ed).

  4. 104
    Tom on 14 Jan 2014 #

    #99 there’s more than one way to rip off the 1966 Beatles – CUE DRAMATIC FORESHADOWING NOISE.

  5. 105
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 14 Jan 2014 #

    ^^^Mark M (and as always Cher Horowitz) OTM. And I suspect it’s what’s at the root of its incipient dislikeability: the singer isn’t quite pulling a “nice guys” move, but you don’t exactly come away thinking it isn’t waiting somewhere in his weapons-room. Whereas the logic of the song — once you revisit the film or the book (and maybe the girl does!) — is that (nice or not) the guy is totally a chump. But it’s not a logic that the singer seems to be aware of, even if the target of the song (the girl) could well be.

  6. 106
    James BC on 14 Jan 2014 #

    Further to #101 etc, you can change Breakfast At Tiffany’s to almost any other film title to amusing effect.

    “And I said, what about, Maid in Manhattan?”
    “And I said, what about, Quantum of Solace?”
    “And I said, what about, the Desolation of Smaug?”

    And so it goes on.

  7. 107
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 14 Jan 2014 #

    “And I said, what about Human Centipede 2: Full Sequence”

  8. 108
    bob stanley (@rocking_bob) on 14 Jan 2014 #

    “And I said, what about, Quantum of Solace?” Terrific discussion on Deep Blue Something and 90s Complaint Rock: http://t.co/YWPRpJK868

  9. 109
    Steve Mannion on 14 Jan 2014 #

    What about ELEPHANT?

  10. 110
    wichitalineman on 14 Jan 2014 #

    The Connells were formed by brothers Mike and David Connell. Deep Blue Something were formed by brothers Todd and Toby Pipes. I’m sure I’d feel more warmly towards this clumsy record if it was by The Pipes.

    Tom raised a good question – why are they called Deep Blue Something? It’s such a shrug of a name, indicating nothing, but it’s still not as bad as Semisonic. Half sound? Semi audible? What are they saying exactly?

  11. 111
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 14 Jan 2014 #

    I remember their TUSKS

  12. 112
    thefatgit on 14 Jan 2014 #

    “And I said, what about, We Need To Talk About Kevin?”

  13. 113
    wichitalineman on 14 Jan 2014 #

    “And I said, what about, Walkabout?”

  14. 114
    mapman132 on 14 Jan 2014 #

    #103 YES! It always bugged me that here in the US at least, there was always an implicit assumption in the 90′s (and well into the 2000′s) that Guitars = Good, Synthesizers = Bad. And I’m saying this as someone who loved much of US mid-90′s alt-rock (except for maybe grunge, which I was relatively lukewarm to). Perhaps the biggest reason I continued to follow the UK chart through good times and bad was that synthesizers never completely went away there. And it’s been quite gratifying for me as a synth fan to see electronica back in a BIG way on the 2010′s US charts.

  15. 115
    Pete on 14 Jan 2014 #

    Cher’s complaint rock barb is much more aimed at Radiohead (who are on the soundtrack twice and clearly equal college radio), than stuff like this. We will come on to it, but the development out of grunge of whiny singers (Hello Eddie Vedder) could encompass Deep Blue Something, but he’s not really whiny enough. In the UK we are beyond the Radio 1 revolution, but there are enough of the old guard around trying to make sense of the music business at the time and going for “classic songwriting”/”Lyrics that mean something” etc (the Mayo mention upthread sounds about right, and he was in the Simon Bates morning slot at this point).

  16. 116
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 14 Jan 2014 #

    it’s a complaintinuum

  17. 117
    Cumbrian on 14 Jan 2014 #

    115: I don’t know much about Pearl Jam – never really got into them apart from Alive. If the lyrics to Alive are representative though, I would say that, at least on that song, Eddie Vedder has pretty decent grounds for complaint.

  18. 118
    leveret on 14 Jan 2014 #

    I listen to a broad range of different pop, rock R&B and soul music styles from various different eras (that’s what they all say, isn’t it!?)… I’ve come to realise over the years that I find music based largely around more ‘trad’ arrangements, melodies and textures, by and large, much more pleasing to listen to in album (or multiple album)-length servings, and to have more staying power in my listening tastes than stuff based on synthesisers, beats, samples etc. I certainly don’t see it as inherently better, but that just seems to be the way it is for me.

    I should then, in theory, be receptive to the type of bands mentioned in this thread. I like REM and Crowded House, and am glad to see ’74-’75 by the Connells getting a positive press here as it’s one I’ve always liked, but I’ve never found the alt-MOR likes of Counting Crows or Semisonic to be anything more than workmanlike plodders, I’m afraid. There’s neither the level of songwriting skill nor imagination necessary to transcend the limitations of the palette that they work with. The absolute nadir of ‘this sort of thing’ for me, is One Week by the Barenaked Ladies, which adds the unwelcome ingredient of wackiness into the mix.

  19. 119
    Alfred on 14 Jan 2014 #

    Fantastic discussion. “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” received massive recurrent stateside airplay well into the 2000s. I still hear it. A 3 is generous. It’s one of the few songs on this countdown that inspires inchoate rage: the passive-aggressive, nattering lyrics, the reified jangle.

  20. 120
    thefatgit on 14 Jan 2014 #

    #110 “Breakfast At Tiffany’s” by The Pipes (And Drums And Military Band Of The Royal Scots Dragoon Guards).

  21. 121
    swanstep on 14 Jan 2014 #

    @118, leveret. The Onion’s AVclub has a ‘Hatesongs’ feature series where it invites one musician each week to talk about his or her most hated record. ‘One Week’ has featured. Take it away Evan Linger from Skeleton Witch (consensus Popular’s inner metalhead?):
    “I did a lot of soul searching on this one. There are a lot of songs I hate, because I’m naturally a hater. I just hate this one the most. In the late ’90s, music really took a turn for the worse, grasping at the straws of all this alternative music. So there’s stuff like Sugar Ray—those songs, they’re so bad. Hootie And The Blowfish: terrible. Blues Traveler: terrible. But those are rock songs. At least someone was trying. “One Week” wasn’t even a rock song. It’s a weird college-rock song with some rap in it, and it doesn’t even qualify as music.”

  22. 122
    Andrew Farrell on 15 Jan 2014 #

    A nearby message board had a discussion of BNL’s fist album cover, with a friend noting that every time you decisively settle on one element as the worst, your eye is inexorably drawn on to something else, in a cycle of the damned.

  23. 123
    Patrick Mexico on 15 Jan 2014 #

    I see talk of 4 Non Blondes – I don’t understand why What’s Up gets all that stick as “one of the worst nineties songs.” Yes, it’s melancholic, overblown and prosaic to the nth degree – but thankfully, that makes it both endearing and hilarious, a rare delight in anything remotely “grunge” by 1993. Especially when Linda Perry hits that perfect beat on “And I pray.. for REVOLOOSHON!” That He-Man viral is perhaps humour beneath most people who comment here, but hell, it’s faithful to the song’s camp kitsch.

    Very How Soon Is Now, in fact. Initially alarmed most bands mentioned in this thread embraced all the problems of the Smiths and none of the genius, but perhaps they’re totally innocent compared to some bunnied little shits from the autumn of 2006.

  24. 124
    D.C. Harrison on 15 Jan 2014 #

    @93

    “Hey Jealously” probably is the best thing the Gin Blossoms did, though “Found Out About You” runs it close. The reason everything subsequent wasn’t up these may be that the guy who wrote them shot himself around the time they got released, having been sacked from the band pre-fame.

    A happy story, there.

    As for this song… meh. I guess it somehow stuck in my mind, as I can remember how it goes without going back to it. I’d have preferred “Roll to Me” to get the top spot – great little song. Surprising how small a hit it was here compared to over in America – top ten there, don’t think it troubled the top twenty here.

    I always chuckle when I see Cumbrian comment, as we’re pretty much the same age, from the same part of the world. I know you didn’t go to my school, though, as an admiration of Semisonic would have been grounds for a kicking, if discovered.

    And the derided Counting Crows song was “Mr Jones”, pedant fans.

  25. 125
    swanstep on 15 Jan 2014 #

    @122, Andrew F. Jesus, but that’s an ‘alternative’ cover, as opposed to this, which is the only cover I’ve ever seen.

  26. 126
    Nanaya on 16 Jan 2014 #

    I wanted to hate this song at the time, I really did, but I found myself obscurely fond of its clunky charms, like fawning over a clumsy puppy or something.

    Tom, considering you draw out the music/romance/general pop culture connection as key to the ethos of the song, I’m surprised you didn’t mention that it gets a nod in Garth Ennis’ “Preacher” as one of Arseface’s covers. An obvious, unsubtle dig at the thing, but perhaps further confirmation of the intertextuality BAT is trading on? It feels like a curious sort of victory, somehow.

  27. 127
    Tom on 16 Jan 2014 #

    Ha – good spot! I gave up on Preacher pretty early though so while I recall Arseface well enough I don’t remember his pop career. Sounds like a nice bit of John Wagner style broad satire.

  28. 128
    tm on 16 Jan 2014 #

    I used to enjoy this sort of stuff as methadone-grade jingle jangle but I can’t stand it now. I’m amazed by the affection felt for Semi sonic and their ilk. Like raving about Gap clothing or Clark’s shoes (the plastic soled ones Geography teachers wear, not the desert boots). I’m not trying to be snarky, I’m just really surprised!

    The lack of ambition is galling: with these sort of bands I always get the impression that they’re quite musically literate and technically adept but for some reason (commerce?) choose to be this boring.

    The first band to be called power pop I think were The Who, who, in the mid sixties had both the catchy hooks and

  29. 129
    tm on 16 Jan 2014 #

    a feral kinesis thanks to Moon and Entwistle. By comparison, these sort of bands seem to lack both power and pop.

  30. 130
    redhairkid on 26 Jan 2014 #

    Had lost all interest in the charts by this stage but I did like this one. Gets an 8 from me.

  31. 131
    Middlerabbit on 7 Apr 2014 #

    I remember this record and I’m not prepared to listen to it again as a result of disliking it quite substantially at the time.

    What I recall about it is this: every time a DJ played it, or it was on telly, someone would pipe up ‘Oh, that’s a quirky song, isn’t it? None of it rhymes!’

    Which, added to the overall non-threatening-every-member-of-the-band-looks-like-an-extra-in-’Friends’ feel, left me feeling nausea at the purposeful inoffensiveness of the entire shebang.

    I have never seen an entire episode of Friends. Until recently, I never even got past the start bit where they’re all faffing about in a fountain. It made me feel sick. Not because of outside water based hi-jinks, but because I knew what they were doing and I knew why they were doing it and I knew the sort of people who’d suggest such a thing and I wanted no part of it. Not for me.

    There’s a word for this sort of thing, from where I come from and that word is ‘nunty’. I won’t go into it here, but if you’re wondering what ‘nunty’ means, listen to this record. Everything about it is Nunty.

    Deep Blue Something. A band who wanted to be perceived as something in particular, but with no desire to actually work at whatever it was they wanted to be perceived as.

    Ironically, for a one hit wonder, this is career rock at its very worst. Don’t know what else to do? Let’s be in a band. Is that allowed? Let’s not offend anyone and maybe they’ll let us do it forever.

    Turgid and wrong.

    1.

  32. 132
    Mark M on 19 Aug 2014 #

    Busker watch: a trio were playing Breakfast At Tiffany’s by the river in front of Tate Modern at lunchtime. They were doing reedy but agreeable harmonies and adding a bit of rhythmic dynamism on their acoustic guitars. Which is to say, they sounded better than the record. Nonetheless, I felt no urge to linger.
    I’ve become pro any busker(s) who isn’t(aren’t) the blokes by the wobbly bridge doing the same bloody Bob bloody Marley bloody songs every day. I know it’s not their fault, it’s the market. I wonder how much I’d have to offer to get them to have a go at Two Sevens Clash or Police And Thieves…
    There was a guy with an 808 (or something that sounded like one), doing live techno one day. That was a bit different at least.

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