SOME SONGS ARE GREAT SHORT STORIES (Chapter 22)

A GUEST POSTING by STRANGEWAYS

If there’s a heaven – and if entrants are welcomed in via song – surely the dreamy and delicate first twenty seconds or so of Heavenly’s Three Star Compartment would herald the arrival of those with an indiepop bent (even if the opening words unfasten a trapdoor to hell).

I’ve known this song for almost twenty-five years, but it was only the other day that it grabbed me in a way it never had previously. A good friend was visiting, and as he shares a love of Heavenly, I stuck the band’s LPs on as we chatted and drank tea. And when the track in question presented itself I realised I’d been overlooking it all this time.

So far, so standard. I imagine lots of unrequited gems eventually catch the ears of even the most seasoned listeners of any given group. But later that day, reading this number’s lyrics knocked my socks off. I remarked as such to my friend. A few days afterwards he suggested offering the song up for this series. I thank him for this idea. Even if you don’t.

In their time, Heavenly endured a heck of a lot of brickbats for ‘being Twee’. Three words: DIE, HEAVENLY, DIE was Melody Maker’s response to this song’s parent LP (1994’s The Decline and Fall of Heavenly). But it’s a fact that for every Lemonhead Boy and Orange Corduroy Dress, this band has form when it comes to tackling the odd heavy topic seldom visited by pop.

The point was made via this blog’s Talulah Gosh ICA, which contained a reference to Itchy Chin, a Heavenly track, also from the ‘94 album, that deals with the issue of manipulation within a relationship: She was taken in/She believed all the things you said were real/Never noticed she was feeling just as you meant her to feel…

Then there’s the Heavenly b-side Hearts and Crosses (1996). It’s a song about date rape and, via the sweetest tune and music, its disturbing words and content are smuggled in like contraband: He held her mouth when she tried to scream/It was all so different from in her dream/He never smiled, he never whispered/He bit her hard, but never kissed her…

On the twee column, admittedly, there’s a wreath-wearing kitten on Decline and Fall’s sleeve. On its reverse, too, the band has been photographed, by one Alison Wonderland, fooling around and playing a board game. But I don’t think these quite merit Melody Maker’s murderous desire, do you?

Anyway. To Three Star Compartment. This particular lyric concentrates on an ex-partner. Nothing original there, of course; that’s long been a pop music pillar. But where this track stands out is in its response to rejection as a badge to be worn: something that’s nurtured and cultivated by the afflicted party. This is best demonstrated in a line early in the chorus: When you’re kissing/But still missing me/It’s because you want to…

It’s a broad notion that Trophy Girlfriend, a blast of a Heavenly single that would emerge a couple of years down the line, took on too: Trying so hard to be what she wanted/Trying to look like she’s a loser…

Rather than relying on well-trodden pop (and indiepop) staples of The One, and of a love that burns both brightly and perpetually, Three Star Compartment faces down such ideas with a jaundiced eye: Can’t you see true romance is dead?/Dead always/So your heart’s broken?/You must be joking…

This is a great song. And it’s so plaintively sung. Also, the coda sounds not unlike Seamonsters-era Wedding Present. But is it a great short story? I think so. Sections of the lyric are conversational. That makes it easy to imagine being sat, amid the clank of cutlery on crockery, eavesdropping on this former couple and the tough love being administered to the half who’s wilfully occupying a space s/he must move on from.

Whoever they were, I hope they worked it out and managed to stay good friends

Three Star Compartment

Don’t ever speak to me again
In that way
I couldn’t care less
If you loved me best
And don’t say that you can love just once
For always
Try to forget all
Storybook drivel
And don’t say you’ll never love again
It’s clichéd
And so deluded
Stop being stupid

‘True love will
Never die’
You don’t think that’s a lie?
When you’re kissing, but still missing me
It’s because you want to
When you’re flirting, but you’re hurting still
It’s because you try to
When you left her, and said I was why
It’s because you lie, so
Kill your dreams and kill your love
I’ve had enough

Don’t tell yourself that I’ll be back any day
Hey you’re just dreaming
I know that feeling And don’t keep on saying “let’s still be friends”
There’s no way
While you’re still hoping
We could be loving
Can’t you see true romance is dead?
Dead always
So your heart’s broken? You must be joking

You think love is
Ceaseless and enduring
Well if that’s so
It’s unceasingly boring

No more always
For ever and repetitious
For ever and repetitious
For ever and repetitious

Musicians:

Amelia Fletcher: Vocals and guitar and OBE
Matthew Fletcher: Drums
Peter Momtchiloff: Guitar
Rob Pursey: Bass
Cathy Rogers: Backing vocals and keyboards and Scrapheap Challenge

And I think the words are by Amelia.

mp3 : Heavenly – Three Star Compartment

Obligatory ‘overdoing it’ section:

Should anyone be interested, this song existed first as a Peel Session version (broadcast 07/05/94). At that point it was called Dumpster, and it offers a few lyrics that were themselves consigned to the dumpster by the time the band recorded the LP version.

After a lot of searching (did you know there’s also a French power-metal band called Heavenly? I sure do) I’ve just found it online – thanks to https://peel.fandom.com/wiki/John_Peel_Wiki – and lovingly extricated it from the entire show.

After hearing this version for the very first time: it’s a faster tempo, I think. Certainly, it’s scratchier. The vocals are delivered more shrilly and stridently too. It is, therefore, absolutely terrific. Unfortunately, I think a middle section is missing from the recording. And it’s in mono. But it’s well worth a listen. Peel himself agreed: “Sounding good, it must be said, actually.”

mp3 : Heavenly – Dumpster (Peel Session)

strangeways

4 thoughts on “SOME SONGS ARE GREAT SHORT STORIES (Chapter 22)

  1. Eloquent as it is accurate.

    Heavenly and Talulah Gosh remain misunderstood, misinterpreted giants in the world of pop-land … even in indie-pop-land.

    All too often people knee-jerk to assinate both bands as candyfloss. Not so.

    This magnificent piece by Strangeways will I hope convinced some here to search out additional works by Heavenly and listen to the words and music not the bias.

    On hearing the original ‘Dumpster’ version of Three Star Compartment for the 1st time (thank you, Strangeways) I concluded this to be my favourite version: those runaway drums, those glorious vocal harmonies and that fuzz – oh, that gentle fuzz.

    Thank you for taking the time to highlight this superbly dark story, sir. You know you’ve made my day.

  2. Very perceptive lyrics. I should send this song to a dear old friend of mine whose estranged husband will not “let go” in spite of them being separated now for 7 years. She keeps saying she wishes he’d fall for someone else so that he could move on, and he keeps saying he’ll never love anyone but her and holding out for her return (delusional!) A very uncomfortable impasse for them both!

  3. Gosh, C’s anecdote sounds like the very genesis
    for this song.

    Thanks Flimflam – I knew you’d love the Peel
    version too.

    And Brian – you’re right: a name that guarantees
    a great record.

    Lastly: thanks to JC for letting me add to the blog.

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