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Thomas Curtin <Thomas.Curtin@oberlin.edu> (19.06.2005)
I think you're misreading Harry a little bit, particularly on the last track, "Bath." What on the surface appears to be a rather glossy and intellectually void tribute to nothing in particular can also be read as a clever ode to brothels. After reading a little background material on the web, I was quite convinced that the lyrics chronicle a young man's adventures at a whorehouse, a drunken night of sexual exploits that results in a much-needed bath the next morning. This interpretation sheds new light on phrases like "I'm awfully glad you let me come inside," as well as "My mouth's so dry it hurts my throat when I begin to speak." Filthy, yes, but so was Nilsson, and very subtly so! Much like Randy Newman (another wonderful songwriter that you should look into), Harry could hide the most subversive of themes behind an innocent melody; for example, "Cuddly Toy" is another term for girls who would participate in, erm, iker-bay ang-gay angs-bay. Like you said, Nilsson isn't an artist that exudes humor and wit; he's an artist that carefully buries it for those willing to do some digging (not in all cases, but in plenty). So while songs on Aerial Ballet such as "Daddy's Song" and "Good Old Desk" can be viewed as light-hearted nostalgia, reading between the lines exposes a whole pack of wolves disguised as a flock of sheep. The lyrics in the former concern the effects that divorce had on a child (possibly Harry, who's father did indeed leave him), ultimately promising not to let the same thing happen to his kids. It's comparable to Harry Chapin's "Cat In The Cradle" lyrically, but where Chapin finds pathos, Nilsson finds irony. Likewise, "Good Old Desk" can be viewed as an innocent ode to furniture, but it's ultimately the portrait of an unsuccessful loner who can't depend on anyone or anything but his desk (By the way, listen to the opening measures of the song, then check back to the bridge in The Move's "Blackberry Way").I think Aerial Ballet is a very special album. "Mr. Richland's Favorite Song," which was also Mr. Lennon's favorite Nilsson tune, is a cutting tribute to washed-up one-hit wonders everywhere (In a remix on the album Aerial Pandemonium Ballet, Nilsson used the chorus from "One" as a backing vocal in the third verse, drawing comparisons between himself and the song's protagonist). You've also got "Little Cowboy," a tribute to Nilsson's Mom (who actually wrote the song), "I Said Goodbye to Me," an interesting suicide song that (amazingly) doesn't get melodramatic until the laughable spoken chorus, and "One," a song apparently inspired by the drone of a telephones busy signal. An infinitely listenable, fairly cohesive album with songs ranging from enjoyable to brilliant, I'd give it a 12. There's definitely more than flattery behind Lennon and McCartney's proclamation that Nilsson was their favorite artist in the late 60's.