Honestly, it’s hard for me to think of Pain of Salvation as a veteran band; in my eyes, they’re always starry eyed children, screaming defiance at the sky, drowning in their own pretentious and yet engaging lyrics. But the truth is, they are a veteran band: their brilliant debut, Entropia, came out in 1997 and the number of their releases crossed into double digits in the past few years. And you know, for the most part, every single one of those albums is great; I can’t think of one that I don’t like in some way. Even my nemesis, the ever-loved BE, with its annoying, mashed up Latin and its pseudo-philosophy, has some tracks which are close to my heart. However, even such a long time fan as I cannot deny that there was some quality about the earlier albums, some wild savagery, that will forever crown them in my mind.
While this is mostly true for albums even earlier than our subject for this post, Remedy Lane is perhaps the most intriguing album in their repertoire: doubling up with The Perfect Element, it serves as the crossing over point from their earlier, wilder works and into the more conceptual, progressive works of their later career. However, as much as I love The Perfect Element, the predecessor to Remedy Lane was already much more contained and mature; it lacked the unhinging, raw pain and experimentation of the previous two albums. But in Remedy Lane, I often feel that a perfect balance was struck; a conjoining of the ferocious agony that fueled the band in the first place and the conceptual sophistication and musical liquidity of their later works. And so, we stand at the precipice, the first step down this road that is memory, sex, growing older, dying, loving, hating and, finally, depression. I’ll try and lead you through this often twisting maze of a story. Stream the album, play your copy, borrow it from a friend; just make sure the music is playing while you read. Enjoy.
Apparent from the outset by the addendum to the track titles (I’ll leave it to you to discover how to decipher these, otherwise, it’s no fun), Remedy Lane can be divided into three parts. The opening track, Of Two Beginnings, sit outside this structure and serves as an exposition, introducing us to the main character and a mix of two timelines: in one, our hero sits in an hotel room, after a sexual encounter, his partner still in the bed with him. His mind wanders, leading him back towards childhood and his first sexual experience:
She is twelve and I’m only ten
buried in this soft mountain of pillows
She asks me have I been touched
Have I done the thing with anyone yet
Silence – a shy “no”
And there is nothing
That we’d rather share
Than that bodily warmth if we’d dare
But she’s already twelve and I am
Just a child
Warm and shy
The track captures the anxiety of the child, the combined rush and fear of the first encounter and its powerful, emotional repercussions. Perhaps hinting at some sort of dysfunction stemming from this encounter, the narrative suddenly jumps back to the “present” of the first timeline, giving us an insight into the current state of mind of our protagonist: un-tethered, possibly free but mostly doubting himself and unsure of his place in life or society. So ends our introduction, with the hero apparently attempting to convince himself that his solitude, perhaps in the face of the one night stand he had just experienced, is actually freedom, a state of mind, a choice even.
In the first track of Chapter I, Ending Themes, we are made familiar with one of the most interesting concepts of the album: the confusion between a city and a lover. Is the girl’s name Budapest? Are they both in Budapest when the fling happens? This is undoubtedly the girl from the introduction, lying with our hero in his hotel bed, but who is she? Did he make love to her or to the intoxicating richness of the city they are both in? The lyrics leave us no answer, intentionally, rather confusing the two:
And so I find myself here once again – first step down Remedy Lane
Budapest you tore my world apart – well, here I am
Worn with rope ends on my mind, torn with blood scarred in my eyes
But now I’m back to shake that from my life
Back again at Deak Ter – I know I could have left her there
It was the feeling of leaving myself that I could not bear
The same old hotel room in Pest one night before the Sziget fest
Hungarian Princess will you share my rest?
To rest in my…
More importantly perhaps, this track lets us know that our hero is fleeing from something: he’s trying to “shake” something from his life. What is this that he flees? The inversion of the path is also apparent: it’s the end but also the beginning, the first steps down the path he must take towards some promised fulfillment or healing. It seems as if the hero knows the irony of this and the unlikely chance that he will actually find any completion. However, he seems compelled, bound to walk, bound to fall in love, bound to betray. However, why does he even need the path? What is there to heal?
The next track provides the start of an answer: a “fandango” is a type of Spanish dance and also the title of the next track. It is usually danced in triple meter and provides an image of a couple swirling around each other, locked in the dance. But who are these couple? Are we talking about the girl from his memories, of his first sexual experience, or the girl lying next to him in the bed? Appealing indications towards both of the answers can be found in the lyrics. For example, here is one that makes us think of Budapest:
She is intimacy – a wonder of closeness
Fighting hypocrisy – a lonely child that
Never could believe, yet never give up
On life’s insanity
Understanding is all, she fails to find it
She can never fall
All her life she’s longed to be weak
All this time on roads turning bleak
Watch her dance…
This is more in keeping with what we know about Budapest and the way the hero sees her. However, other lines simply don’t fit her. There’s talk of lost innocence together and of building their love and life with each other. And thus, we are introduced to a new detail: that girl from our hero’s memories, he fell deeply and madly in love with her. Not only that, they stayed together, for years perhaps, maybe even until the very day of the telling of the story. I’ll even go one step further and controversially claim that the dance involves three partners, to match perhaps the triple meter of parts of the song and the dance. In fact, the hero is torn between the two women, locked with one from his past and with this one from his present, this Budapest. Look at the way the two relationships are contrasted in the lyrics:
All his life he was just wishing
to be touched but too scared of
what he desired
while all her life she was an object
of grown men’s desire and wished to
now they must try to work their
unforgotten sexuality out!
Watch them dance…
Always being much more human than they wished to be
They built up a world so wonderful
So pure and tense
Stained only now and then by the blood
Of their young innocence
The first stanza clearly fits Budapest while the second hints at a long history. Thus, it relates to the girl of his memory, his lifelong love. So, what happened? What went wrong in our hero’s life and why is he in Budapest?
A Trace of Blood, the closing act of our first chapter, gives us the answers. It has taken me long to decide who the woman in question is here but I now firmly believe it’s the young love of his life. Apparently, at some point in their lives, she was pregnant. I believe, when she was very young, perhaps as young as fifteen. However, that pregnancy ended in a miscarriage, dashing the hopes of the young couple and inverting their love: the heights of their passion are now the lows of depression. It closes with one of the most heartbreaking passages I’ve ever heard:
The irony of seeing me whispering through her skin
To our child there deep within
Or of when she called to me
To tell me cheerfully
That she had seen your shape
On a hospital screen
And of nurses being concerned
That you never moved or turned
Too late we see the warnings
Too late we learn
And so, the love of our hero’s life collapses. How does one react when a thing you thought was so pure, invincible and honest collapses around you? The path our hero will take will be destructive, fatal and chillingly melancholic and misanthropic. Hints of it can be found in the closing passages of the track: “Hollow years of damming that flood / Two young souls in misery”. It’s obvious that from this blow nothing much recover and certainly not the love the two had shared. And so, our hero runs from a life with no purpose and finds love in the arms of a young woman while in exile.
All of this and more awaits us in Chapters II and III which we will address in the second part of this post. In the meantime, the first chapter has many passages left unsolved here: who is the dryad mentioned a few times? Is she Budapest or his old love? Was it just the death of the child that tore the couple apart or is there more here beyond the surface? Is that the tragedy that sent our hero into exile, as he calls it, and why Budapest? I leave these questions to you. Check in again tomorrow for the second part!