Here I am breaking my own rules again. I never thought one of the biggest challenges of this series would be thinking of songs to write about. I figured my limitation would be finding things to say about them. The reality is I could have written this entire series about Radiohead songs. But I’m pretty sure that would have dramatically decreased my readership 🙂 The convenient part of writing about an artist twice is that I’ve already made my case for why they’re worth listening to, and I definitely feel as though I’ve already made a strong case for Radiohead.
Weird Fishes is probably the song that I’ve spent the most time picking apart and trying to figure out. I can think of at least 3 extended text conversations between Quinn and I comparing and contrasting our interpretations of this song.
One of the things that sneaks up on you about this song is the way it builds. It starts with a nice, smooth, arpeggiating guitar line, sparse bass emphasis, and a soft, consistent drum pattern. In the next phase of the song, Ed O’Brien adds some really nice, spacey background vocals before the the drums burst in with splashy cymbal accents. Before you know it, there are three arpeggiating guitar parts swirling and mixing together that create a sense of arranged chaos. This song is gorgeous, with every arduous detail adding value. As per usual with Radiohead, the soundscape of this track is inseparable from the overall meaning of the track.
The way this song builds makes you feel like you’re rising in elevation. As each layer of sound is added in, you can the feel the velocity of your ascent quickening. Based on the lyrics and title of the track, we can reasonably assume the metaphor we are meant to imagine takes place in a deep body of water.
Here’s how I see it. Imagine you’re one of those weird and creepy fish at the dark, lonely bottom of the ocean. That’s how Thom is describing his isolation. Living out his banal existence at the bottom of the sea. However, his eyes meet with one that he encounters; someone that understands him and causes him to question the presupposed scope of the limits on his joy in life. I think Thom is comparing the feeling of falling in love with someone, the rush you get as that ideal of romance formulates in your head, is like rushing towards the surface of the ocean. You’ve found someone that is leading you away from the life you’ve accepted as a bottom dweller, and you begin to see the light of day as you swim and chase the possibilities in front of you.
At about two-thirds of the way in, this song hits a crescendo. That velocity that’s been building and building is so tangible, and then you’re just left floating for a few seconds with some lush synth arpeggios and singular guitar part sustaining the background. I think this is the point at which our protagonist experiences disappointment. The love he was chasing towards the surface disappears, and as the song kicks back in you experience the sensation of starting to sink back towards the bottom of the ocean. Velocity again begins to build as gravity pulls you back into isolation.
// I’ll hit the bottom // Hit the bottom and escape //
By this point, it seems as though Thom almost craves his former lonely existence in the dark. The idea of returning to what he once knew is preferable to the idea of rushing towards the surface again only to sink back to the bottom; let down.
I think this is a pretty accurate portrayal of the feelings you experience right after a heartbreak. Your mind is full of the excitement and prospects of what it will be like; you’re rushing towards the bright surface of the water. But when it doesn’t work out and you’re sinking back to the bottom, you start to question whether or not the whole pursuit was even worth it. Maybe remaining at the bottom with the other Weird Fishes would have been better.