Monday, June 6, 2016

Semisonic- Feeling Strangely Fine (1998)

By Elina Osi

Feeling Strangely Fine is the second studio album by American alternative rock band Semisonic. While writing for the album they had three specific requirements. Firstly, they didn't want to record any demo tapes beyond simple guitar and vocal basement sketches. That meant that the versions of songs we hear on the album are the first band recordings of the songs. Secondly, they wanted to have no deadlines for which all the songs would have to be finished. Thirdly, they wanted to create tracks in various hi- and lo-tech settings around Minneapolis and use their computers to meld the different sounds together. All and all they wrote a total of 60 songs. However, only 12 made it to the final album.
The first song of the album is certainly their best-known song. Before this song they already had have success with their first album Great Divide. It was even declared one of the best albums of 1996 by the Rolling Stone, however the band never had much commercial success. But when Closing Time hit the airwaves in spring 1998, it seemed like it would never go away. Because of the over-playing the song was forgotten for many years, but rediscovered in 2011 when The Office included this song in one of its episodes track list. At the same year it was also one of the songs featured on the Friends with Benefits soundtrack.
It is a song that you may listen thousands of times and never get bored of it. Closing time has a pop-rock tune to it and may own its main stream success to it.  The lyrics of the song however, come across as if Dan Wilson really means, what he is singing. It is a type of song that endures, but in a completely different way. It makes you think about your own life and it is a type of song that you may carry in your subconscious forever. It has actually nothing to do with liking the song, but with the memories you have with the song. In that way Closing time is the perfect 90s song.  
It’s actually quite funny to think of the success this song had, because it was written in 25 minutes.

Time for you to go out to the places you will be from
Closing time
This room won't be open till your brothers or your sisters come
So gather up your jackets, move it to the exits
I hope you have found a friend
Closing time
Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end

Also, I really don’t understand how this song about having a child.

Singing in My Sleep is the perfect song for anyone who’s ever made or received a mix tape. You can really see, that the songs were written in the 90s. At that time you could do a mix time for every situation. Including seducing. The songs, which went to the mix tape were thought out thoroughly, because you had only a limited amount of space to send your message. Wilson hits the nail on the head when he sings:

Got your tape and it changed my mind
Heard your voice in between the lines

He also captures the thrill of the situation:

I’ve been living in your cassette
It’s the modern equivalet
Singing up to a Capulet
On a balcony in your mind        

Such lines prove that the song isn’t just catchy, but it also has lyrics that are readable. In a weird and unexpected way the lyrics also remind me of Shakespeare when he sings:

In the City the lion sleeps
Pray to Sony my soul to keep
Were you ever so bright and sweet
Did you ever look so nice

Made to Last in definitely the saddest sounding and also the second longest song from the album. It seems to concentrate on the theme of moving forward, wanting for something better and hoping it to last.
The song also deals with themes of being disappointed in life and wanting for so much more from it as he sings:

Made to dream of flying
So high
Made to wake up crying
I don't know why

Dan Wilson himself says that there were a lot of things going through his mind about life, mere survival vs. thriving and loving, while writing this song. Also at the same time the band had the question "Which superpower would you have if you could have one?" (Flying. The feeling of swooping over the landscape, zooming in close to examine an old ruin you find interesting or shooting straight towards the Western horizon)
 For him it seemed that so many of the answers took a similar form, which got him thinking about how we all have dreams in common.

Never You Mind is the 4th song from the album and unlike others it was written by Dan Wilson and Jacob Slichter.  The song is full of Star Trek references. Especially the Spock and McCoy lines refer to a particular episode of the original Star Trek, where Mr. Spock's brain is stolen. So they fly across the universe and find the brain hooked up to an alien computer on some distant planet being used to run computers.
 From there comes the TV show music like sound and also somewhat weird lyrics:

Switch on the box Mr. Spock is on the table
Dr. McCoy is unable to connect his brain
Sweatin and strainin
Well it seemed so simple at the time

Dan Wilson also liked the idea of something being really clear and obvious at first, but then turning vague and ambiguous. Like a fight that outlasts its reasons. The Blur and Oasis references are about the out of the hand and even funny feud between the two English rock bands.

Secret Smile could be about a prohibited love, which they keep a secret. However, the song can just be about that special bond you can have with somebody. The one person that really understands you and can save you from the worst. Without whom you can feel like you are alone in the world. The song itself is catchy, but also have some kind of lazy feel to it. It’s like the singer is just laying on the couch and jamming.

DND is supposed to mean Do Not Disturb and was a reference to the sign you can hang on your door at a motel if you want to have some peace and privacy while on the road.  It is a song that was all written once.  The song has mainly just a guitar background and is built around it.
As he sings at the beginning of the song:

Now they'll leave us alone
Now you turn off the phone
How like you to make the whole world disappear and
How like you to make everything seem so clear and
How like you to make me want to stay forever
Here behind your door

You can say that the song Completely Pleased has a sexual undertone. It even has the lyrics that prove the theory, as he sings:  

I wanted to leave you
Completely pleased
Sleep drifting above you
Sweetly released

However it is up to every listener how he or she interprets the lyrics of this song. The song itself is very different from others from this album. At some times he sings in an almost whispering manner. Also at the end to song has words that are spoken.

This Will Be My Year is a thoroughly optimistic New Year’s song. It sums up the last year and sends it away. Unlike other songs on this album this is written by Jacob Slichter, who is mainly the drummer. It is also different from the others, because it has more pop-rock vibe than others. It’s also quite cheesy song, as the main idea seems to be asking a girl, if they could start dating.  All Worked Out is similar to This Will Be My Year, as it is about a woman who is certain of what she wants from life. The beginning of the song is singed in a high-bitched voice, however as the song progresses you can barely hear the vocals as instruments play over it. For me, it was the weakest song from the album.  She Spreads Her Wings is a ballad many ways different from other songs in this album. Firstly, it is written by John Munson, who mainly plays the bass guitar. Secondly, Munson also performs the song. Thirdly, it has much fewer words that other songs. The song is unexpectedly sad and if you listen to it, you may feel as if somebody close to you had just left.

California is not a well-known song by Semisonic as it is hard even to find lyrics. Maybe you can blame the fact, that there are just too many songs about California, according to Wikipedia more than 1300. However it is the longest song on this album being 5minutes and 29 seconds long.  Despite that it is a song well worth of listening.
Gone to the Movies is in many ways similar to She Spreads Her Wings, as the both songs touch on the themes of leaving and going after something you want. However, Gone to the Movies has more playful and childish lyrics. It as if She Spreads Her Wings is about already an adult woman who dreams of flying away and leaving everything behind, but Gone to the Movies is about a teenager, who just wants to feel free and gets to do that while she is watching movies.

Semisonic is a band that will forever be known for their one hit-Closing Time and it is a shame, because the band has so much more to offer, as their second studio album, shows. Feeling Strangely Fine isn’t just an album with bunch of romantic songs, it is so much more. It is an album that is fun to listen and can be just a background music, while you are doing something else, but it is also an album that makes you think. All of the songs on this album may seem light and just another 90’s pop songs, but if you think and listen to the lyrics more carefully, you may discover layers upon layers of new meanings.  What hold the album together are the undeniably catchy pop music, the low-key intelligence behind the lyrics, and the occasional quirky word play. You can really say that the album Feeling Strangely Fine makes you feel strangely fine.

Fun fact: Dan Wilson, the leading man of Semisonic, has also written songs for Adele, Dixie Chicks and Taylor Swift. One of the songs he has co-written is “Someone like you

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