Celebrating The Best Indiepop Records #2: "Emma's House" E.P. by The Field Mice
"Where is that chaos that usually flows from me?"
How can a 7" 4-track EP contain all the clout, imagination, and life-affirming beauty of a triple LP concept album? Simple....when it's the "Emma's House" EP by The Field Mice, or Sarah Twelve to the anoraks!!
This is quite simply one of the GREATEST records ever made....I love it, I absolutely LOVE it!!! This is the record that soundtracked the golden Summer of 1989, the record that created a backdrop of warm twilights, giddy headrushes, broken hearts and melancholic longing.
Let's take it by the hand and walk to the top of the hill....the sun's just setting.......
Five to Six....somewhere it's always Five to Six, and Five to Six is the time I used to leave my house to walk the considerable distance to the only bus-stop in my village where I could get the bus to HER town......and on title track 'Emma's House'; "Five to six that's what the time is//Where you are...." I used to sing this refrain every time I walked that bus-stop. On the way I would pass a run down old house that we always used to believe was haunted; "Emma's house is empty//So why do I call it Emma's House?" The song sounds like pure Summer, strummy chiming guitars, the bass playing a melody of it's own(á la The Marine Girls), and a really primitive drum machine. It can't be any exaggeration that the Summers used to be better when we were young, but all the times I walked to that bus-stop, it only ever rained once!
Since my childhood, and through my teens, adolescence and twenties, I was a ludicrously light sleeper. A goldfish could break wind downstairs and I'd suddenly be wide awake. Whenever I stayed at HER house, I'd spend the entire night lying wide awake beside HER. This is where 'When You Sleep' comes in......
"When you sleep// I listen to you breathing//When you sleep//I listen as the air(pause)....leaves you". As we will discover later, it's the pauses that hammer the nails of heartbreak to the wall.
"I can't help feeling// This cannot last// I can't help feeling// You will break my heart(pause)...break my heart". The pessimists among you will know this experience only too well. If you've ever lay awake beside someone all night, you'll know how deep this song cuts, for it is at these moments that all doubts escalate, and this song captures that sense of hopelessness completely.
On Nick Cave's storming epic 'Do You Love Me', he growls mournfully one of the most downbeat lines imaginable; "I knew before I met her that I would lose her"....OUCH!!
And that could be said of 'The Last Letter'; easily one of the most heartbreaking songs EVER, I knew long before I ever met HER that there would come a time when I would have to turn to this song.
The melodic bass introduces us before a haunting(yet strangely upbeat) piano refrain drapes itself over the song. This is where songwriter Bob Wratten really comes into his own....this song is shot through with so much self-deprecation that the very timbre of his voice stabs you through the heart. The killer line that destroys me on every listen contains the single most heart rending pause; " I never was one// To try// I never was any good(pause)....was I?"
When SHE left, I knew it would become impossible for me to ever listen to this song again.....for a long time anyway. Even now, even though I love the song so much, I tremble before the power it has over me. It's a song I can only ever play if everything in my life is going well, a song of such incredible beauty that I can only wonder how empty my life would be had I never found it.
So what does that leave us with? The wistful coda of 'Fabulous Friend'; a vapour-trail, a faded Polaroid, a glance backwards, memory tail-lights fading....."She WAS my fabulous friend"(emphasis on the word 'was')....and YEAH, that's all SHE was....and this is only a 7" piece of vinyl with some songs on it, right?
It's a record like this that makes me despair of people whose lives aren't dominated by music, those for whom pop songs are mere aural wallpaper, who never feel the emotions of a strummed 12-string crackling and popping on the Dansette.
Emma's House may be empty......but now my heart is full.