(Radiohead's "The Bends" album and a bottle of 2003 Taltarni Pyrenees Shiraz)
Balance and subtlety - these were the key themes I had in mind as I sipped at my first glass of the Shiraz and dove into the first track of the album. It is no accident that I chose an Ausie Shiraz to drink while listening to this particular album. The Shiraz grape was actually introduced to Australia by way of the U.K., so the pairing seemed fitting.
Just as Planet Telex was getting underway, the rich, smoky bouquet of the wine, with suggestions of smoke, created a unique preface to the experience which lay ahead. The first lines out of Thom Yorke's mouth seem rather apropos - "You can force it but it will not come, You can taste it but it will not form, You can crush it but it's always here, You can crush it but it's always near...". The wine, while boisterous and youthful, is still somewhat reserved. Patience is needed, as the juice begins to open up and reveal itself.
*Rumor has it that Thom and the band wrote Planet Telex in the studio after a night of drinking several bottles of wine. One wonders what was really on Thom's mind as he recorded his vocal track, while lying down drunk... One wonders which wine they were drinking??
In the case of this album, the first track is really a primer, it sets the stage for the revelry to come. As Planet Telex fades out and the lyrics ask "Why can't you forget?, I took a moment to notice the dark, almost haunting, ruby color that the wine reveals as I prepared myself for the trigger cut (track 2).
If track 1 sets the stage, it is the trigger cut (TC) which defines the album. The TC on "The Bends" is actually the title track (a rare occurrence for Radiohead, whose only other title track TC was Kid A). This is important to take note of, since I strongly believe that it is the second sip of wine which really defines the wine. While the first sip can be tainted by residual flavors left over in your mouth from lunch, it merely creates a foundation for sips to come. It is now, as you revel in the second sip, that you actually meet the wine. First impressions are revealing, but the second sip of this Shiraz reveals deep layers of black berry and spicy black pepper. The rigid, powerful structure of tannins, while still very noticeable, softens to reveal balancing characteristics of raw cinnamon and vanilla. Now we're really in there!
Here the lyrics of the TC speak of an almost unbearable, laughable longing and waiting. "Waiting for something to happen,...I wish that something would happen." And, as the song raises itself to the heights, with a spiraling guitar riff, the listener finds themselves perfectly poised to take in the emotional grandeur of High and Dry.
This has become my second favorite track on the album, for numerous reasons, but mostly because it stands as a monument, in my opinion, to Thom Yorke's vocal abilities. Here the band achieves a unique balance, as they point out the bitter ironies of feeling on top of the world. Though Thom doesn't much like this cut, and it's poppy accessibility, it truly is a revelation.
When track 4, Fake Plastic Trees, opens up, it creates an acoustic atmosphere for sheer enjoyment. I find myself reveling in the richness of the wine, from it's soft velvety undercurrents to it's powerful fruit flavors. The wine is more than meets the eye, and the pallet.
As the rest of the album moves by, the listener is put through numerous emotional states, from obsession to spiritual fantasy; from narcissism to the constraints of success. It comes as no surprise that the wine sustains and holds up through the journey.
Pay particular attention to Jonny Greenwood's guitar work in Just - a truly crowning achievement, and as a special bonus check out the music video for this track - What does the man say at the end?
Other high points which accentuate the best of this wine, and the album, include the atmospheric Bulletproof... and the muted joy of Black Star. The sorrowful disdain of Sulk and the musing misunderstanding of How Can You Be Sure? (When I'm Like This) are just a sampling of the subtle highlights which can be found throughout this superb album.
At this point you may find yourself staring at an empty glass, seriously considering another pour. Do yourself a favor and pour away, and prepare yourself for my favorite track on the album (and possibly my favorite Radiohead song).
As you savor the velvety finish of the wine, recall the superb strength and core of flavors, the spiced fruit, the lush powerful tannins. As Street Spirit (Fade Out) hits it's melodic stride, savor the richness of the wines long finish. This song is a true collaboration, as Ed O'Brien adds a critical layer of arpeggios, and the lyrics suggest feelings of being overwhelmed - the final refrain suggests "Immerse your soul in love, Immerse your soul in love."
The final song is a reminder to enjoy the small moments, because, in the scheme of things, they're really all that sustains. The Taltarni has accompanied us along this unrivaled journey, and yet, as we sip at the last drops and recall it's impeccable finish, we must understand the extent to which this wine was shaped by the music.
Some will tell you that wine is a living thing (Maya's monologue in Sideways comes to mind) - and while there will be scientific nay-sayers who warn that nothing is alive within the bottle, this particular experiment reveals, for those who choose to see it, the truth of the matter. Wine, while not literally alive, is a fluid, and malleable thing. When surrounded by external influences such as environment and musical accompaniment, the wine seemingly takes on new more interesting characteristics. While this may be true for any juice you pair with any Radiohead album, it is on display in impeccable form in the case of this powerful yet subtle Ausie Shiraz, and this superlative and singular album.
From one wine/music lover to another - enjoy the album... enjoy the wine!
Wine/Music Pairing Experiment #2 - The Bends & A Bottle
- Reply by Philip James, Sep 15, 2008.
Excellent stuff David, I really enjoyed reading this.
Quick question - whats a trigger cut?
- Reply by davidrey, Sep 15, 2008.
Hey Philip - A Trigger Cut is actually a concept I first read about in an article by Scott Silsbe a staff writer for the, unfortunately short-lived, underground magazine Kitchen Sink (V.3 Issue 4). Scott discussed the importance of the Trigger Cut, basically the second track on a great album, and how crucial this particular track really is. He says "Track one sets the stage, but track two initiates a response on which the rest of the album relies", and I couldn't agree more - especially in the case of The Bends.
- Reply by Philip James, Sep 15, 2008.
aah, you know, now that makes sense. 2nd track is critical, and then the 8th, or at least ive heard something like that, where the first track needs to be striking, but its the 2nd and 8th tracks that are the best ones.