Monday, December 31, 2007


Some Kind Of Wonderful shows the refinement of the John Hughes teen fairytale oeuvre. In many ways it's a retelling of Pretty In Pink from the year before, but the characters and relationships are more nuanced. The general composition of the film is more sophisticated; the plight of adolescence is still brought achingly to life, but without resorting to quite as many cliches. There's also an exhilarating cameo by March Violets, and their two final and most accessible songs before they disbanded.

Another song from the ne plus ultra soundtrack sneaks by, barely present in the actual film. At the start of the scene in the art room between Keith & Hardy, we hear a church-like organ sounding wistful chords while a roiling rhythm section carries it forward, and only the first two lines of the lyrics. The second time we hear it, when Amanda is cut by her friends and mocked by Hardy, it's purely instrumental. Considering how prominently so many songs feature in John Hughes films, we are tempted to assume that this particular music is just a score element, and not even look for it on the soundtrack.

But it's there, and it's gorgeous, and it sums up all of Some Kind Of Wonderful better than any of the others. That organ and rushing drum and bass are the framework for 'Brilliant mind' by Furniture, one of the biggest undervalued talents of modern music.

'I'm at the stage / where everything I thought meant something seems so unappealing / I'm ready for the real thing but nobody's selling / except you and yours / saying open up your eyes and ears / and let me in / You must be out of your brilliant mind.'

How marvelous that this verse, perhaps a lost fragment of a beat novel, crystalizes the entirety of the love triangle that is Keith, Watts and Amanda? Jim Irvin's voice is quietly controlled; it builds gradually along with the song, relentless without being oppressive, detached but betraying the emotional swells underneath.

'I'm at the stage / where I want my words said and no one wants to listen / No one wants to listen 'cause everybody's yelling / about you and yours / and how I'd have the answer / if I'd only open up, up, up / and let you in / they must be out of their brilliant minds.'

This is the calm in the midst of the storm of growing up, the moment of wry clarity while the turmoil howls outside the door. Stripped away by itself, the organ part might as well be a church hymn, with its continuous re-resolutions from chord to chord, no attack, only sustain. But the sheer velocity of the rest of the music - bass notes there on every eighth, bursts of tom at the end of almost every measure, the absolutely inspired addition of pizzicato strings to further agitate the breakdown and rebuild - it's a constant tension, the closest thing to the adrenalin of heartbreak you'll ever hear.

The bridge adds an unexpected shading to this song of love and longing. 'I said shame / Shame on you'; repeated three times, it takes a stronger stand than the verses. Everyone is out of their brilliant minds, and the sooner we see beyond our teenage self-involvement, the better. We hurt each other, especially when we believe that we are the only ones hurting. As with its peers in the Hughes canon, the great message of this film is to find ourselves in the people with whom we assumed we had nothing in common.

It's difficult to categorize this song. On the one hand, nothing is unique; it's late new wave in which keyboards and guitars coexist harmoniously, and pop sensibilities and post-punk artfulness meet halfway. But I can't think of a single other track that sits easily next to 'Brilliant mind'; it is 'Spellbound' without the rough edges, 'Heartbreak beat' dragged behind a speeding train.

The great tragedy is that after the triumph of this song, as a UK top 20 single and an inclusion on the Some Kind Of Wonderful soundtrack, Furniture fell victim to label volatility and never quite recovered. There are rumblings about new material, but I don't dare to hope for another 'Brilliant mind.' It's a perfect storm, never to be repeated.

[At the time of this post, Furniture does not have an official website]