12
Jan 14

DEEP BLUE SOMETHING – “Breakfast At Tiffany’s”

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#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. 91
    Ricardo on 14 Jan 2014 #

    If someone told me earlier this entry would actually be close to three-digit comments in one day, I think I’d laugh him/her out of town. Which goes to show you should never underestimate MOR’s pulling power, be it positive or negative.

  2. 92
    Patrick Mexico on 14 Jan 2014 #

    #90 – Well.. “Where were you when you were shit?” you may ask – and my first football match wasn’t until April 4, 1994, a 5-0 hammering of Barnet. My fifth was the Wembley play-off final where we beat Stockport with five times as many fans, and sixth and seventh being, for reasons of unfathomable good fortune and gonzo family endeavour – the semi-final and final of USA ’94. (Don’t get jealous, it was my Charlie and the Chocolate Factory moment, but ever since it’s been horribly Augustus Gloop. Sadly I already used a pun for Veruca Salt.. another band of this ilk I’m worryingly fond of, who may have accidentally invented Avril Lavigne.)

  3. 93
    DanH on 14 Jan 2014 #

    Woah…comments galore

    I agree that “Hey Jealousy” is the high point of Gin Blossoms. Everything else I heard from them rolls off my back, albeit in an pleasant manner. As opposed to this song…I get that it’s probably intentionally pathetic, but it still reminds me too much of the hipster-ish sensitive-single-guy’s-dream-scenario ‘bonding over music’ stuff you’d find in films like 500 Days of Summer and Adventureland (both of which I really like in spite of that, probably because I am the aforementioned SSG)

    Very surprised to hear so much Semisonic talk here. I had no idea they had any more than “Closing Time.” This board is getting me remembering the one and only U.S. hits of Dishwalla, Dogs Eye View, Del Amitri, Rentals…stop me, stop me :-)

    #70: I did come across “Lemon Tree” a year ago, it did nothing here in the States. But it sounded OH SO 1995 that I got nostalgic for that year, even though I’d not yet heard it. I see it was a pretty big hit in Europe, so I’m sure there was overplay backlash.

  4. 94
    swanstep on 14 Jan 2014 #

    @87, Patrick. I believe that Blondie’s ‘Heart of Glass’ got its title (though none of its content) from Herzog’s film of that name. I don’t suppose too many people checked out that film because of it though (it’s semi-famous for being the film where Herzog hypnotized his actors to get them to embody his passing theory that medievals had relative limited inner lives, or some such thing – at any rate the upshot is that it’s very hard for a viewer to stay awake during it, especially the first half – after that one sort of acclimates).

    Another name to throw on the pile of what was going on on US modern rock radio in 1996 (albeit orthogonally to Deep Blue Something) is Marilyn Manson. The Antichrist Superstar album dominated record store window displays for months where I was and ended up selling several million copies (and getting plenty of headlines for its tour). Relatedly, I remember there being a lot of talk about ProTools at this time, and how each update in the software was leading to noticably different records. Antichrist Superstar was exhibit A for ProTools 4.1 or some such thing.

  5. 95
    Izzy on 14 Jan 2014 #

    I really liked Semisonic too! I’d’ve really liked to go and see them with my new girlfriend (now my wife) when they came touring in 2000 or thereabouts, off the back of Secret Smile and subsequent album. Only instead of a nice warm city centre venue, they’d been booked into a huge shed outside town. I couldn’t understand it, there was no way they could hope to fill an arena, so I declined because seeing them struggle in a freezing, empty hall would’ve been too dismal. It may even have killed our relationship; aiui that’s how things work.

    Anyway, seeing a succession of no-hopers like The Bravery appear on the listings for same venue in the following period made me wonder if I got it all wrong, and music had shifted to a more adult demographic, who prioritised things like road access and easy parking. I’d never associated the genrelet in this thread with AOR – there’s little attempt at ‘sophistication’, just bold and pleasant tunes – but the change of venue suggests maybe that’s exactly what it was.

  6. 96
    Rory on 14 Jan 2014 #

    taDOW @29, Doctor Casino @81 and others are right about a key line of descent here being from US college radio. The other I would mention is that alt-rock power pop is Rolling Stone music, or at least RS circa 1988-2000 (when I was a subscriber). RS loved this stuff, but not unreservedly; they would distinguish between good and bad examples, as with any genre. I read the Australian RS, which was a blend of the US mag and local content, so it wasn’t exactly the US version, but we got enough of the US reviews and articles to pick up the holy writ about REM and All They Hath Wrought. It isn’t surprising to me that there’s been no attempt to (re)launch a UK version of RS; Q and Mojo between them fill the equivalent niche, but there’s a crucial difference in focus and tone.

    Another point of comparison here, which I don’t think has been mentioned, is Tom Petty’s work of the same era (post-Wilburys), in collaboration with Jeff Lynne and Rick Rubin. I loved that stuff – Into the Great Wide Open was one of my albums of the ’90s, and his soundtrack to She’s the One came close – so I was always predisposed to like anything that reminded me of it.

    This thread has prompted me to go back to Dan Wilson’s Free Life of 2007 and give it a proper listen at last. I can see why my first play of six months ago left me uninclined to go back; it has the common solo-album problem of being too unplugged and fading into the background unless you listen to it intently. It could have done with being a 45-minute Semisonic album rather than a 55-minute solo album. But the closing track, “Easy Silence”, caught my attention this time, and could end up being my path back into the rest. (Turns out he gave that one to the Dixie Chicks first, but I much prefer his version.)

    Doctor Casino, you say Popular would rip apart “Closing Time” given the response to BAT, and on the basis of this thread you may be right, but I can’t see them as equivalent, really. Apart from the annoyance factor of over-exposure to the track in unimaginative pubs, it’s better performed, is a better tune, has a better chorus, and has better lyrics – there’s none of the risible relationship philosophy that sinks BAT. To have any kind of real-world logic, BAT’s lyrics needed to take the sharp right turn halfway through that Open English gave it in their parody (thanks, Query @56), but “Closing Time” has no such imperative, because it’s about a mood, not a story.

  7. 97
    Gavin Wright on 14 Jan 2014 #

    The US/Canada indie-MOR sound definitely felt like A Thing back in the ’90s and I’ve really enjoyed the comments here so far joining all the dots. In one way this was the sound of my teenage years (just seeing some of these bands’ names takes me straight back to the sixth-form common room), although I have to say I hated pretty much all of it* and it wasn’t something I ever listened to through choice.

    I don’t think I’d heard ‘BAT’ since 1996 until a few years ago at a friend’s NYE party when one of the other guests insisted on doing it on SingStar (he’d been hogging the microphone all evening). Sadly it sounded as irritating as ever. I’m giving this a (2).

    Re: radio play for this sort of thing – at the end of the decade I got my first Saturday job in a beer shop. We’d have Virgin Radio on (as the manager felt that Radio 1 played “too much rave music”) and their playlist was wall-to-wall New Radicals, Alanis Morissette and Sugar Ray.

    *The two songs I have actually come around to are ’74-75′ by The Connells and ‘Stay (I Missed You)’ by Lisa Loeb & Nine Stories. Also Tom’s probably right about Sheryl Crow, I even liked some of her singles at the time.

  8. 98
    Weej on 14 Jan 2014 #

    Strange to think that an artist as big as Sheryl Crow has no #1 singles or albums to her name on either side of the atlantic – she had 16 UK top 40 singles over nine years but never managed higher than the the #4 for All I Wanna Do in 1994. Seems like a case of middle of the road = middle of the charts, though of course that didn’t stop Deep Blue Something.

    I’m still not sold on alt-college-rock-MOR or whatever we’re calling it as I can’t even get to the point of understanding the appeal of something like Semisonic let alone sharing it. I just can’t shake the feeling that it’s designed to be as bland and inoffensive as possible, though (I hope) that can’t be the intention of the artists involved. Does anyone want to have a go at selling it to me (and any other sceptics)?

  9. 99
    Rory on 14 Jan 2014 #

    weej @98, college rock and alt-rock between them are too vast in scope to be able to sell anyone on everything they represent, but by the same token would contain something you might like, if only we had time enough to search for it. A lot of UK indie was packaged as college rock/alt-rock in US and other markets. Australian pub-rock veterans like Midnight Oil and the Divinyls, likewise.

    If we’re talking about Semisonic specifically, all I could do is recommend listening to the songs I linked at the end of #47. If you like two or more of those, you would like the band’s albums well enough; if not, probably not.

    If we’re talking about this ’90s version of power pop more broadly, the appeal is its blend of acoustic and electric guitars, vocal harmonies, piano rather than synthesized keyboards, and a focus on melody. It’s inspired by Beatles-circa-64-66, more or less. Not a bad inspiration.

    I would never suggest that anyone try subsisting on it exclusively, but as part of a balanced diet it’s perfectly tasty.

  10. 100
    23 Daves on 14 Jan 2014 #

    #97 “74-75” is a single from that era I enjoy, actually, and it’s surprising it didn’t perform better in the UK charts. I seem to remember that it was a surprisingly high entry in the NME’s top singles of 1996 chart as well.

    This discussion is reminding me just how varied the charts were in the mid-nineties, even if the number ones don’t always reflect that. There’s long been a temptation in the UK mass-media to claim it was all about Britpop and The Spice Girls, but there was a lot of other interesting work achieving moderate success besides. If Britpop hadn’t been happening I suspect more would have been made of all kinds of peculiar trends. It’s often struck me as odd that by 1995-6 there was a moderately popular influx of dramatic enormo-bands with strings attached (Tindersticks, Jack, My Life Story, Divine Comedy) which would probably have been called a ‘scene’ at any other point. Then there’s trip-hop, a lot of lo-fi records selling far higher than anyone would suspect, hip-hop coming of commercial age… a huge wide-open prairie, really.

  11. 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.

  12. 102
    Mark M on 14 Jan 2014 #

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

  13. 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).

  14. 104
    Tom on 14 Jan 2014 #

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

  15. 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.

  16. 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.

  17. 107
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 14 Jan 2014 #

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

  18. 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

  19. 109
    Steve Mannion on 14 Jan 2014 #

    What about ELEPHANT?

  20. 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?

  21. 111
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 14 Jan 2014 #

    I remember their TUSKS

  22. 112
    thefatgit on 14 Jan 2014 #

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

  23. 113
    wichitalineman on 14 Jan 2014 #

    “And I said, what about, Walkabout?”

  24. 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.

  25. 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).

  26. 116
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 14 Jan 2014 #

    it’s a complaintinuum

  27. 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.

  28. 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.

  29. 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.

  30. 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).

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