The Mountain Goats – Tallahassee
4AD, 2002 (Reissue)
Acquired: Love Garden, New, 2009
This is one of my favorite records of all time, in terms of a record being something you listen to all the way through. It's my favorite concept album (slightly edging out the Hold Steady's Separation Sunday), telling the story of the doomed Alpha couple. Doomed to purchase a decrepit house in Tallahassee (the same house mentioned in earlier Mountain Goats jam “The Mess Inside,” perhaps) only to watch it fall apart along with their relationship, culminating with their drinking themselves to death on “Alpha Rats Nest.” The tunes drift between anger and regret. Spite and sadness. “No Children,” the groups most well known song after “Going to Georgia,” is the best anti-love song of all time. Nick Spacek told me that he and his wife had it played at their wedding, and I was like what the? It's an urging for the destruction in the couple's relationship to hurry the hell up and kill them already. “I hope the fences we mended/ Fall down beneath their own weight/ And I hope we hang on past the last exit/ I hope it's already too late,” John Darnielle sings. Every line in that song is perfect. “I hope I lie and tell everyone you were a good wife,” “Our friends say it's darkest before the sun rises/ We're pretty sure they're all wrong,” all culminating with the couple seemingly yelling “I hope you die/I hope we both die” back and forth at each other. This vicious quality is also found in the gritty rocker “See America Right,” which involves carrying a case of vodka to a bus stop and nasty weather, driven by Peter Hughes distorted, almost sadistic sounding bassline. On the other hand, there's the sadness. “Game Shows of Our Lives” and “Old College Try” show the couple's inability to separate. “I will walk all the way down to the end with you/ If you will come all the way down with me.” This echoes the “You are coming down with me/ Hand in unloveable hand” line in “No Children.” The lyrical threads are really a delight, if you can use that word to describe this record. It's a perfectly executed story through song, and I think this is the best songwriting John Darnielle has done, and that guy is STILL writing amazing songs. I think this is the peak though. Every line stings or smacks with bitter irony or dark humor. The metaphors (best seen on “International Small Arms Traffic Blues”) are fantastic, and the climax feels like the Alpha Couple trying to hurry up and just get it over with. It being their dissolution. Just wishing that the house would burn down with them inside of it, the flames aided by the alcohol they keep on hand and the rising black smoke carrying them far away. Or at least that's how I always read it. It's really a treat, and now I really wanna go through all the other Alpha songs and piece them together. I've also always imagined what Tallahassee would be like as an opera or better yet, a musical. Once I made up some dance moves while singing “No Children” to Jenny, and it seemed like it would be pretty awesome. The liner notes (written from the husband's perspective), and the online supplement, are also quite interesting in getting context. I'll go out there and say that this is the best Mountain Goats record. Period.
As you can see, people go apeshit for this song. And with good reason!