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The National's Money Shot: In Praise of "Bloodbuzz Ohio"

POSTED:

A great philosopher (I think it was the lead singer of the Flying Lizards) once said that if you want a perfect hit song, you should sing about either money, sex or cars. The Flying Lizards were a total new wave one-hit wonder, and naturally their one hit was a bizarro version of "Money." (They were also a college favorite of President Obama's, according to a New York Times article.) "Money" was a Top Five hit in the U.K. in 1979, but it got blocked from the Number One spot by — what else? — Gary Numan's "Cars."

I bring this up because the National's song about money is so sickeningly great, I can only imagine how great their car song will be, if they ever get around to writing one. (Their sex song might end up sucking, but it's safe to bet they'll never do one.) "Bloodbuzz Ohio" has proven its mettle in recent weeks — I still can't stop playing it. The clincher is the moment in the chorus when Matt Berninger murmurs, "I still owe money, to the money, to the money I owe," a brilliant line tossed off in his magnificent Leonard Cohen/Nick Cave/David Berman baritone. The song ebbs and builds with undeniable emotional punch — mostly, I admit, because it's a pretty much direct copy of INXS's best song, "Don't Change."

The whole National album is great — after their 2007 hit Boxer, they could have gone in a folksier direction, but they went in a weirder, spacier direction and got even better. I like Boxer twice as much as their debut Alligator, so it stands to reason I like High Violet twice as much as Boxer. But when I put it on, I still end up playing "Bloodbuzz Ohio" on repeat. The song is full of throwaway clues that never add up to any coherent storyline. (The state of Ohio seems to be mentioned only because it sounds like "I owe.") The real story is there in the chorus — not just the "I owe money" line, but the rhyming line which seems to belong in a totally different song, "I never thought about love when I thought about home." We never find out what home means to this guy, or love, or even money. We don't find out what went wrong with his life and left him with all this doom in his voice. As the song fades, all we know for sure is that (1) he owes money to the money he owes, and he's got a case of the sweats over that, plus (2) he's in a band that likes INXS.

Another great philosopher (I think it was INXS' Michael Hutchence) once said you couldn't make a bad record copying "Don't Change." This is 100% correct, and "Bloodbuzz Ohio" proves why.

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Rob Sheffield

Rob Sheffield is a contributing editor at Rolling Stone, where he writes about music, TV and pop culture. He is the author of two books, Talking To Girls About Duran Duran and Love Is a Mix Tape: Life and Loss, One Song at a Time.

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