Friday, May 2, 2014


I love it when bands include references to their old songs within the lyrics of their new songs. Those little nods to previous work help to tie discographies together, making everything seem like one body of work rather than a series of similar-sounding but ultimately unrelated CDs.

The literature word for this is intertextuality, but that's a clunky word that makes you sound like a dork, so I've decided to give those little callbacks a new name: ROPSWEDs. It stands for:

Remember Our Previous Stuff? We Evidently Do!

So yeah, here are some of my favourite ROPSWEDs:

Sing for the Submarine by R.E.M. (from Accelerate)
Released in the spring of 2008, Accelerate was one big olive branch to R.E.M. fans after the disappointingly bland Around the Sun. The band deliberately returned to a more invigorating, rocked-up sound on their 14th album, and they played a whole bunch of cool tracks from their early days on the subsequent Accelerate Tour (check out the Live at the Olympia album for a sample of that).

Sing for the Submarine remains my favourite track from Accelerate, and it includes yet another nod to their past in the form of this great little ROPSWED:

"So this is where I give in to the machine. Lift up your voice, feel gravity's pull."

R.E.M. scholars agree that this is a direct reference to Feeling Gravity's Pull, the opening track from Fables of the Reconstruction (released in 1985 and largely forgotten by the band until this point). Interestingly, that isn't the only ROPSWED in Sing for the Submarine; in addition to the gravity thing, Michael Stipe also mentions Electron Blue and High Speed Train, two songs from Around the Sun. Perhaps he was trying to give the themes of that much-maligned album some credibility, even as the band distanced themselves from Around the Sun's distinctly vanilla sound.

Still Life with Hot Deuce and Silver Platter by Titus Andronicus (from Local Business)
Anyone could spot the intertextuality present in the Titus Andronicus oeuvre. Over the course of their three albums, they have given us two 'Upon Viewing' songs (Upon Viewing Brueghel's Landscape with the Fall of Icarus and Upon Viewing Oregon's Landscape with the Flood of Detritus) and three 'No Future' songs (No Future Part I, No Future Part II: The Day After No Future, and No Future Part Three: Escape from No Future).

Titus have also christened a fair few tracks in their own name: The Airing of Grievances had Titus Andronicus; The Monitor had Titus Andronicus Forever; and their most recent release, Local Business, had Titus Andronicus vs. The Absurd Universe (3rd Round KO).

But these are just names, and they don't necessarily denote any continuity between the similarly-titled tracks. We do, however, have Still Life with Hot Deuce and Silver Platter (also from Local Business). And there's a real gem of a ROPSWED buried in this one:

"You know I'll always be a junkie! You see me spread across the floor; 1-2-3-4-5-6-7 angels don't come around no more."

We've met the seven angels before, in Four Score and Seven from The Monitor. In that song, the angels come to rescue Patrick Stickles from "six dark-winged devils"; by Local Business, however, the angels had realised that Stickles would never be able to stay away from his demons. They don't bother saving him any more.

Matterhorn by Jason Lytle (from Dept. of Disappearance)
Jason Lytle gets extra points for referring back to a song by Grandaddy on one of his solo albums. Most artists try to distance themselves from old glories once they go solo - they want to be recognised as a talent in their own right, see - but Jason Lytle has no such problems with the odd little backward nod. It's appropriate, really, because his solo work does just sound like an extension of Grandaddy's stuff.

Here's the all-important ROPSWED:

"Lone bird on a perch nearby, saw something in her come untied...shivered just a bit as she aimed towards the sky."

So You'll Aim Towards the Sky is the closing track of The Sophtware Slump, Grandaddy's millennial masterpiece. I don't think the two songs are really connected beyond that little reference, but it's reassuring to know that Jason remembers that album as fondly as we do.

Stay Positive by The Hold Steady (from Stay Positive)
The Hold Steady, of course, are the kings of ROPSWEDing (ropswedding?) Characters like Holly and Gideon pop up again and again throughout their discography; it's like their entire output is a novel, the plot of which is being slowly revealed to us in the wrong order.

Still, my favourite Hold Steady ROPSWED can be found in the title track of 2008's Stay Positive:

"It's one thing to start it with a positive jam, and it's another thing to see it all through."

This is awesome, because it brings their whole career full-circle. Positive Jam is the first track on their first album, Almost Killed Me; the band literally did start with a positive jam, and now, several albums later, they're realising that they saw it all through. It's the perfect ending for The Hold Steady Story.

Obviously, THS have released a couple of records since Stay Positive, so perhaps Heaven is Whenever and Teeth Dreams are supposed to form the beginning of some kind of second phase for them? Neither of album mentions Holly and Friends, as far as I can remember, so it definitely seems like they're embarking on a completely different universe. Maybe, in two albums' time, we'll get a song that ROPSWEDs The Sweet Part of the City (Heaven is Whenever's opening gambit):

This one does have a very prologue-y feel to it.

If you actually understood all of that, feel free to share some ROPSWEDs of your own in the comments. I'm almost certain that Conor Oberst has done a few...

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