In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well. This week, we’re talking about the songs we hate by bands we love.
The New Pornographers, “Electric Version” (2003)
The first time I heard The New Pornographers, I thought they were terrible. It was a cold Sunday afternoon in 2004, and I was sitting in a bar in Minneapolis. From the jukebox, I suddenly heard the sound of a jangly mess—a pop song that seemed to lack any discernible hook, much less overall appeal. I asked someone what artist had perpetrated this crime against eardrums. I mentally filed away the name, vowing to avoid them if possible which naturally meant that over the course of the next couple years, The New Pornographers would become one of my favorite bands. I can recite the track listing of every album from memory, and am close to seeing them live more times than I can count on one hand, which isn’t bad for a broke twentysomething living beyond their means.
And yet, every time I hear the song I first encountered in that crowded bar—“Electric Version,” off their 2003 sophomore album of the same name—I rush to skip ahead to the next tune. This doesn’t happen with any other song of theirs; the band has a discography among the most consistently excellent in contemporary rock. But “Electric Version” falls flat in all the ways that their music usually soars: The main riff sounds like a random assemblage of chords, fitted together simply because no one had done it before, rather than for any sonically pleasing reason. Carl Newman’s vocals search for a complementary melody, but wind up meandering. When the refrain kicks in, frenetic keyboards stomp all over the otherwise-promising hook, making the song feel overstuffed and busy, rather than fleet and fulfilling. It sounds like a coked-up Bugs Bunny wandered into the studio with his Casio and insisted on soloing over the chorus.
I’m well aware this puts me in a serious minority of the group’s fans. I’ve had multiple arguments with other die-hard supporters who tell me I’m crazy for not hearing how good it is. (I look forward to hearing what other choices commenters have for worst New Pornographers song.) If you’d like, chalk it up to how great all the rest of their output is that “Electric Version” comes across as their weakest offering. But every time that chorus comes in, and the band starts singing, “Sounds lost,” I can only think, “God, it does, indeed.”