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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. 76
    James BC on 13 Jan 2014 #

    Has nobody suggested that the protagonist is being deliberately funny?

    Relationship is at a low. Girl says they have nothing in common. Boy comes out with absurd line about Breakfast At Tiffany’s. Girl laughs. They both laugh. They realise (remember) that they share a sense of humour after all. They do have something in common – and not just the film. All is well.

  2. 77
    Tom on 13 Jan 2014 #

    #77 a nice reading but not really backed up by the emotional mood the music and performance is setting IMO.

  3. 78
    mapman132 on 13 Jan 2014 #

    #72 Interesting fact: “Iris” was initially yet another victim of the no-unreleased-singles rule on the Hot 100, but spent a still-record *18* weeks atop Billboard’s Airplay chart. When the Hot 100 started allowing non-singles in December 1998, “Iris” finally debuted at #9, but went down from there as it was well past its airplay peak.

  4. 79
    23 Daves on 13 Jan 2014 #

    Actually, having seen other examples of American alt-pop/ alt-rock of this era listed in front of me, I do have to wonder if I should have given this one more points. I don’t find it overly irritating, and I do know that almost all the other tracks mentioned in this thread so far send me running for the hills. There’s one particular song I don’t even want to mention or dissect I despise it so much (not only does it aggravate me, it’s an unshiftable earworm once I get thinking about it). That nameless track would have scored an easy zero had it climbed to the summit in this country. Actually, come to think of it, there are two US mid-nineties alt-rock hits I almost despise beyond all words.

    I can’t work out what it is that unites them all, but part of it may be a cold, calculated feel. A lot of these records are knowing and wry without being too intelligent, are ROCK without being too wild or spontaneous, faintly emotional without generating much empathy, and constantly looking over their shoulders towards an MOR/ AOR past. But then Supertramp tick a lot of these boxes too (apart from the last one) and I enjoy a lot of their stuff. Something really irks me about this style and I can’t place precisely what. Perhaps my brain expects something more than any of it actually delivers.

  5. 80
    MBI on 13 Jan 2014 #

    Now, personally, my reading is that it’s not meant to be funny or sad; it’s a relationship ending with a shrug and moving on. I don’t hear much pathos or bathos in it.

  6. 81
    Doctor Casino on 13 Jan 2014 #

    Agreed with MikeMCSG #35 and Rory @ 47. This kind of “pretty” alt-rock is more than just a cleaned-up grunge or a alternified AOR (though I think punctum’s reading is interesting) – it’s actually continuous, genre-wise, with what got played as “college rock” in the late 80s and early 90s, and which in the US made up much of the Modern Rock chart before Nirvana. REM made a bunch of really good records – this is the last, sad trickle-down of the most easily ape-able aspects of their sound (and that of the Replacements, and the Smiths, and…). Deep Blue Something’s song is a lousy, underwritten example, and the only kind of nice thing about it is the guitar break – generic, but not unpleasant to hear at the grocery store or dentist’s office. So I don’t think Tom’s review is wrong, either. But there was just a lot more happening on American alt-rock radio than this might suggest. IIRC this had a very short lifespan on said format before being fully adopted by the top 40 and adult contemporary stations. Matchbox 20 and the Wallflowers, who really were what Punctum describes, made a similar transition.

    Semisonic isn’t a totally far-off comparison, and that dude did have some kind of limited college-rock credentials viz. Trip Shakespeare, though I liked them better with a little more grunge-wash to the guitars, as on their first record. “If I Run” remained their best single IMO, though “Chemistry” isn’t bad. “Closing Time,” though, yikes – if Tom went after Deep Blue Something’s lyrics, then I shudder to imagine what would happen if we took that one on.

  7. 82
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 13 Jan 2014 #

    one of the ways the book BaT differs from the film is that the relationship ends in the book; the film has standard RomCom ending — the book version of the guy is also a bit of a deluded dullard, iirc; in the film, by contrast, he rescues her from her sadness (and flighty self) by being her future dependable other half…

    so the song actually matches the book a little better, curiously enough, in that the guy in it is also baffled and saddened by the fact it’s ended — only to discover that holly golightly (for it is she) is not really at all who she seemed to him to be; the way she presents herself to the world — which he had been so beguiled by — is a mask, deliberate or otherwise, to distance herself from her hard upbringing (and other hinted-at traumas?)

    so there’s a teeny glimmer of room for this to be quite a clever, culturally literate song — though it entirely depends on the listener knowing both the versions as well as what the song actually talks about (and i don’t think i believe the song IS this clever… it’s basically using culture as a get-out-of-tastejail-free card, because everyone of taste loves audrey hepburn films, right? (same way aretha especially sometimes got deployed in music in the 80s, as a transcendent marker of excellence that no one could possibly disagree on)

  8. 83
    iconoclast on 13 Jan 2014 #

    I remember when, not long after this was at Number One, a girl I went to work with told me she was learning to play the guitar, and this was one of the songs she could strum along to. I didn’t know whether to regard that as a Good Thing or not. Anyway, it’s dull, boring, tedious, and forgettable. At best FOUR.

    #27: ah, that would be an ecumenical matter.

  9. 84
    Billy Hicks on 13 Jan 2014 #

    75: I thought it was “Ah, yes! I recall. I think? We both kinda liked it”, pushing the conversational nature of the chorus to the extreme.

    Ditto also the early comment about mistaking thinking it was about a first date rather than a breakup.

  10. 85
    Another Pete on 13 Jan 2014 #

    I think Sweden had a big part to play in the reason why US alt-rock didn’t fair too well in the UK. In 1996 they were having something of a Britpop style boom themselves Cardigans, Wannadies, Whale, The Hellacopters etc. The sound wasn’t too dissimilar to Britpop and if required to come over to the UK to promote the single/album a flight from Stockholm is far cheaper and shorter than a transatlantic one.

    Breakfast at Tiffany’s follows on perfectly on from not knowing whether Peter Andre was in a soap or not, in that I assumed this must be from a film, how else would it be number 1. Yet there were no clips of some romcom injected with footage of the band in the video.

    #79 Is it ‘Peaches – Presidents of the United States of America’ they were probably the one of the few US alt-rock acts to have some relative success in the UK in 96, though it was only for that year.

  11. 86
    23 Daves on 13 Jan 2014 #

    #85 – Yes! Well done! I despise that song. Being aware of my weakness, my housemates used to taunt me by playing it or humming it to themselves.

    The very fact that the only clues I gave anyone were that I would have given it 0 out of 10 if we discussed it here and found it incredibly irritating, that’s an impressively quick guess. Maybe I’m not alone.

  12. 87
    Patrick Mexico on 13 Jan 2014 #

    I like this more than I should also because Breakfast at Tiffany’s, the film, was pretty bloody obscure to a boy of 11. I guess nowadays I might prick up my ears if a massive hit was called Aguirre, Wrath of God or Valerie and her Week of Wonders. Budding musicians – don’t get any ideas from this assertion. Please don’t. :)

    Not really interested in much that weekend.. apart from worrying Nick Griffin lookalike Paul Barnes’ five goals for Burnley against one of our quirkier (and arguably unnecessary – legend has it they picked on us as no “big” Greater Manchester teams could be arsed) rivals, Stockport County. They hit fame that year reaching the Coca-Cola Cup semi-finals – and promoted to the second tier – beating, finishing higher than, and briefly in a division above Manchester City!!

    Just like Deep Blue Something, you have to feel a bit sorry for wherever the poor buggers are now.

  13. 88
    Another Pete on 13 Jan 2014 #

    #86 Said song was brought up in conversation yesterday at a family party by way of my cousin remembering my younger brother teaching him how to play it on guitar.

  14. 89
    Kat but logged out innit on 13 Jan 2014 #

    #75: I thought it was ‘we both had an idea’! As in, the couple had once had goals/dreams of a happy future but Oh Well Never Mind.

    This was a firm fixture on the Capital FM playlist; I’d never seen Breakfast At Tiffany’s but I had DEFINITELY seen 95% of Friends episodes (thx to non-existent social life and always being in on Fridays) and the BAT video had wide-angle lens skyscrapers in it, which was basically identical to all the Friends between-scene external shots. The song inhabits a totally different space to the Rembrandts for me though! The latter was all bouncy Monkees hijinks, while BAT was way more like Scruffy Dudes Be Unlucky In Love aka the Spin Doctors. Semisonic and all that were YEARS later before they made an impact.

    However, a momentus thing had happened by this point! I HAD MY OWN CD PLAYER! (A Discman that didn’t work too well on the move, so I just plugged it into my tape deck’s speakers.) I didn’t have to go downstairs and listen/transfer to tape in the living room anymore! Parental Advisory here we come!

  15. 90
    MikeMCSG on 13 Jan 2014 #

    # 87 I think it’s more likely that they saw you as rivals because you were down in the Fourth Division with them for five seasons or thereabouts.

  16. 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.

  17. 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.)

  18. 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.

  19. 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.

  20. 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.

  21. 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.

  22. 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.

  23. 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)?

  24. 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.

  25. 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.

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