The Execution of All Things isn’t the first or only record to open with a bait-and-switch mix that comes in low, tricking you into turning up your stereo, only for you to get blown away when the proper levels finally kick in. But it may be the only one that has the courage to see the bit through for more than three and a half minutes.
As memorable as that long-delayed subito forte is, “The Good That Won’t Come Out” would be a great song even without production chicanery. A childishly simple beat allows for minimalistic bass and guitar tracks to feel robust. And for all the praise I’m about to heap on Jenny Lewis, it’s a real achievement that the song’s opening riff—da dun-dun DAH-dun, da dun-dun DAH-dun—is arguably its most memorable signature.
About Jenny Lewis, though. If you don’t already place her on your highest tier of songwriters, reading and listening to “The Good That Won’t Come Out” ought to correct that oversight. Her performance here is fantastic—her understated, sarcastic and conversationally self-deprecating tone is perfectly married to the song’s lyrical content, amplifying the qualities of both. And those lyrics? Well, the song’s second verse captures the dual shame of hiding who you are not only from strangers but from yourself as well as any lyric I’ve encountered:
I do this thing where I think I’m real sick / but I won’t go to the doctor to find out about it / ‘cause they make you stay real still in a real small space / as they chart up your insides and put them on display / they’d see all of it, all of me, all of it
All of it, all of me, all of it. That’s the fear, isn’t it? Like a poisoned dart, that line. A few lines later, Lewis suggests exactly the type of solution that you’d expect from a narrator who sees themselves as failed and broken: “I think I’ll go out and embarrass myself / by getting drunk and falling down in the street.” It’s an escape, I suppose, and not the most severe, as we’ll see. But the line that sticks in my brain the most, maybe because of the content, maybe because of the metaphor chosen, comes in the abbreviated final verse:
Let’s talk about all our friends who lost the war / and all the novels that have yet to be written about them.
J.R.R. Tolkien, who knew a thing or two about losing friends to war, once said that he preferred applicability to allegory because the former allowed the reader a freedom to find their own meaning. He wasn’t talking about lyrics but he might as well have been. The internet believes that Lewis was talking about suicides there—that’s a hell of a war to lose—and maybe that’s true. But the lyric is so well written that it doesn’t matter what the line meant to Lewis because it’s perfectly framed to be whatever I need it to be for me. Of course, I’m not going to tell you what that meaning is, not yet, because then you’d see all of it, all of me, all of it.
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