The First Time

Apparently a last-minute thing, recorded live in the studio and unexpected until it happened. I’ll say. “The First Time” is one of those songs that’s so quiet and low-key that, initially, it’s hard to see exactly why or indeed if the song has any power. But as the shortest song on the album, both timewise (3:45) and lyrically (check the booklet), it sounds minimally planned, just vocals, guitar, bass, piano and harmonium (the latter two by Brian Eno), and positioned three tracks from the end, it actually has a climactic feel to it, as if “Dirty Day” and “The Wanderer” are part of an immediate encore. The harmonium creaks in the background, the guitar plays a moderately plaintive line, and the whole thing very gently rises into full-hit piano chords and ethereal epiphany.

Lyrically, this is effectively a musical version of the Prodigal Son parable, which possibly makes this Zooropa‘s equivalent of “40” (that might be why it feels like an album ending). Yet the conclusion is kept open, relatively uncertain (although I get the impression that his ways are changed), with only a reappearance of the refrain – And for the first time/I feel love. Yet the protagonist isn’t unaware of what he has – in the verses he clearly describes a vivacious partner (Shows me colours when there’s none to see) and an extremely loyal sibling (I have a brother/When I’m a brother in need), yet he runs away from it. The descriptions of these individuals isn’t out of character, either, so some sense of realisation may well be dawning, even this early on in the song. This is, then, a song-size expansion of the line in “Dirty Day”, which speaks of holding onto things so tight/You’ve already lost it – that is, the Prodigal Son realising the true value of what he has once it has all been taken for granted and wasted.

Still, this song is a winner in many respects because it’s kept simple, but not overly so. The music seems minimalist, but it’s creeping to somewhere, and the lyrics seem descriptive on paper, but are realised very emotionally (particularly the sheer sense of regret in And I threw away the key). Overall, definitely the highlight of Zooropa‘s second side.

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~ by 4trak on September 27, 2008.

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