Why I love: outros
Originally published in Plan B magazine, October 2007 – www.planbag.com/shop
Why I love: outros.
Sometimes our own time is the very best time to live in. Some things engender faith in our cultural instincts. Some pop forms are high art, and the outro is one of them.
The outro is pop’s nod to the classical coda – a final passage that draws from the forms and themes of a long piece to conclude it. Codas, like most classical forms, grew in complexity over time until they became these big-deal self-referential musical vessels, aching for the plunder of the modern and the bold. Outros are our pirate badge of honour, a hook at the wrist. Lots of songs pare down or shine up their component parts for a big finish – think ‘Joyful Girl’, or ‘This Charming Man’ – but these are not outros. The true outro is a distinct new passage, scrambling for your attention, compulsively answering the song’s own questions, an end not ready yet to end.
It’s tempting to think of the outro song as a perpetual crescendo, and outros are, mostly, a joyful form, but they can also bring a reckoning, a thematic conclusion of frightening intensity. ‘Drive’, by Throwing Muses – which sees Kristin Hersh threaten to ‘fight the clouds with your head on a stick’ – burns a long fuse of malintent through a lengthy, repetitive outro. Guitars settle into a chugging riff, short vocal phrases grow in scale, piling body parts, hers and her lover’s, ‘in my head/in your heart,’ roadkill alongside ‘the road/the road home,’ concluding in a defiant chant: ‘I don’t care I don’t care I don’t care I don’t care.’ PJ Harvey’s horrific ‘Nina In Ecstasy II’, which dates from Is This Desire?, preempts the ghostly child-actors of White Chalk with a single, high-register vocal line, a young girl lamenting her own demise and calling for her mother (the chorus’ only word, drawn-out and shaky, is ‘MAMA’) – and then flatly gives us the time-of-death by using the chorus of 1971’s winter warmer ‘Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep’ as an outro. ‘Where’s your mama gone? Far, far away.’ The melody floats down from the heights of the chorus to meet a funereal organ part. You’re left feeling as though you found the body, and it’s the outro that does it, that sets Nina down where she can clearly be seen. Take that, Nick Cave! Back to murder-ballad school with you!
But the truest, most lovingest-best function of the outro is not to conclude. It’s takeoff, not landing, that is the outro’s real business, and the more pop the form, the faster the ascent. That’s why DJ’s love outro songs; they glitter-glue people to the dancefloor with sheer excitement. Tell me your favourite Daft Punk song isn’t Aerodynamic. I won’t believe you. I don’t believe you didn’t lose your breath when you first heard the song move directly from intro to double-tapping outro heaven. Such a radical gesture, the song as means to its own end – I don’t believe you didn’t run around and fall all over yourself and shout. They knew you would, too, knew they had written possibly the greatest outro of all time, and that’s why when they play it live, they segue straight into it from ‘One More Time’, a song which is, lyrically at least, a perpetual intro. ‘One more time, we’re gonna celebrate,’ they call; the ragged, insistent, irresistible arpeggios of ‘Aerodynamic’ – and the absolute abandon they bring – are the only possible response.