Best Song Ever?: Ambulance (TV on the Radio)

Another in the “Best Song Ever?” series. Simply, I give the background, a point, a counterpoint, then star rating for songs that I have on my list of “good songs” with the goal of deciding what’s the best song ever. Note for those using feedreaders: the song is embedded on this review’s entry so there’s a point-of-reference in the review; you might want to view this entry from the webpage instead of the feed.

Background
TV on the Radio, creators of one of 2006’s best-reviewed albums, Return to Cookie Mountain were once “indie” in more than just genre. They’re now one of those “popular unpopular” bands, with an appearance on David Letterman and a video on rotation on MTV Hits. You’ll see music critics fawning over their doo-wop and soul influences, though at the end of the day, their “thing” is usually more of a noise/fuzz experiment (basically, it’s an entrant in the genre of “stoner rock”), in 2004, they released the album Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes with the a cappella “retro-ish” track “Ambulance.” They’re the type of band that if you namedrop “TV on the Radio,” you’re guaranteed to impress your pretentious friends.For

  • Who needs any stinkin’ instruments when you’ve got competant singers.
  • The “dum-dum-dum-dum-dum-dum-dum-dum-dum” bass line won’t leave your head. Ever.
  • Relentlessly solid lyrics (and I’m not a lyrics person): I will be your accident if you will be my ambulance //
    And I will be your screech and crash if you will be my crutch and cast // And I will be your one more time if you will be my one last chance.

Against

  • The “dum-dum-dum-dum-dum-dum-dum-dum-dum” bass line won’t leave your head.
  • The music is so straight-forward that you can’t help but pay attention to the words, and some of those words, while usually solid, if not looked at in the context of the whole song give the feel of written-by-high-schoolers-literature. Heart’s colors changed like leaves sounds like one of those faux-deep expressions a 16 year old would think up. To be fair, the line does actually work because the rest of that verse mentions vines, gardens, seeds and other earthy, not entirely unmetamorphical terms. I’m not sure this should be held against the song, but I don’t feel like erasing it.
  • At 4:54, it’s a bit simple for a song with no “build” or swell.

***

This is a tough one. The song is timeless – if I hadn’t mentioned the dates in the first section, I’m not sure anyone would know that it was from 2004 instead of any decade preceding that. Timelessness would be a characteristic of “the best song ever,” but I think this one draws too much from the past. A more modern take of the song is offered when it’s played live (see video, below). A guitar plays some atmospheric texture, a bass plays the “dum-dum-dum-dum-dum” part, and someone beatboxes a drum part. It’s wholly the same song, but provides an all-new direction for it. Note: the video is just a portion of the song, but it’ll get the point across.

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1 Comment

  1. have you heard “Dear Science” yet? every release from these guys get me more and more excited about them.

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