Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Breakaway As a Concept Album

Frank Kogan writes on the Teenpop Thread on Feb. 16 about his interpretation of Breakway as a concept album. I don't know how to link to individual posts, you can scroll down to find it. His basic idea is that the album can be taken on its surface to be an album about a girl who declares independence then spirals into codependency in an unhealthy relationship. You can read the post if you want to know exactly what he said, but that's the basic gist.

And it's funny that he wrote this, because ever since I got this album last year, I've always thought of it as a concept album where the tracks are out of order because they loaded the singles to the beginning. Here's another, more optimistic take on the concept of the album, revising the track listing to make it more to what I've always viewed the story to be:

1. "Because of You" -- Her dad beat her mom. The mom just rolled over and took it, leaning on Kelly for support. This screwed Kelly up for life. She can never open herself up to people because she is afraid that she will be hurt the way her mom was hurt. Amazing, incredibly dark lyric to this song. The "And now I cry in the middle of the night for the same damn thing" part may place this later in the continuity than I've put it here, but for the backstory I'll leave it first. Most accurately it would probably be placed between "Where Is Your Heart?" and "Walk Away". Gives the song an extra lyrical punch if interpreted in that way.

2. "Hear Me" -- Kind of similar to "Because of You". After living her whole life sheltered off from other people she is feeling lonely and scared. Literally screaming and pleading for somebody to find her and FORCE her to open up to her. She knows her life and psychological situation is messed up, and she needs somebody who is going to be patient with her and stand by her. Not a song known for its lyrical subtlety. Dig in particular: "I used to be scared of/Letting someone in/But it gets so lonely/Being on my own/No one to talk to/And no one to hold me/I'm not always strong/Oh, I need you here/Are you listening?"

3. "You Found Me" -- Right, getting onto a happy note post "Because of You" and "Hear Me". Walled off her whole life, she finally meets somebody she likes enough to open herself up to. Because she's always been so shy, nobody ever thought much of her. But this guy knew there was a good person inside and got her to open up. One of the only happy songs on the album. I don't read a dark undertone to this song, except that it is pretty clearly from the same perspective as the previous two.

4. "Addicted" -- Whoops, that didn't last long. As you might imagine from somebody who was so incredibly desperate to find somebody who liked her ("Hear Me"), she almost immediately spirals into a sickening and frightening codependence. She's never been in a relationship before, so she might not know what is an appropriate level of affection to show. Pretty clearly she knows this is messed up: "It's like I can't breathe/It's like I can't see anything/Nothing but you/I'm addicted to you". Right, using a drug metaphor. The person is totally consuming her life in a way that even she knows in unhealthy but there's nothing she can do about it. She loves him (or is it just the idea of a relationship she loves so much) too much to stop.

5. "Where Is Your Heart" -- Instantly starting to doubt whether he really likes her at all. This is the awkward part of the relationship where you seem to be way more into your partner than he/she is into you. She is so loving and co-dependent of him, and she wants something in return. Pretty clearly this song is from the perspective of a person who has spiraled into a co-dependence as described above, as in: "Is it so hard/To give me what I need?/I want your heart to bleed/That's all I'm asking for/Oh, where is your heart?" I want your heart to BLEED? She wants him to be a codependent mess, just like she is! Yikes. Does he really love her and her expectations are unrealistic, or is he really kind of wishy washy about it? No way to know because it's all from Kelly's perspective.

6. "Walk Away" -- At first appears to be outside the continuity of the album. But upon inspection, seems to be Kelly pre-emptively breaking up with her boyfriend because he doesn't seem to be that into her. I'd say it fits into the continuity pretty well. E.g.: "I've waited here for you/Like a kid waiting after school/So tell me how come you never showed (showed)?/I gave you everything/And never asked for anything/And look at me/I'm all alone (alone)". Notice the interesting analogy she uses. She's waiting for him like a KID waits for his PARENTS. That's pretty clearly not a healthy relationship. Anyways, upset by the lack of attention she's getting (described in "Where Is Your Heart"), she decides to break up with him before he breaks up with her. Take it in the context of "Because of You". Rather than risk getting into a dysfunctional relationship like her mom was, she's gonna end it here.

7. "I Hate Myself For Losing You" -- Kelly, finally starting to realize that she is probably more responsible for the breakup for the relationship than he was: "I hate myself for losing you/What do you do when you look in the mirror/And staring at you is why he's not here?" In fact, since Kelly broke up with him, she's been a broken mess, and meanwhile he seems to be happy with another woman: "You got what you deserved/Hope you're happy now/'Cause everytime I think of her with you/It's killing me/Inside, and/Now I dread each day/Knowing that I can't be saved/From the loneliness/Of living without you". Seeing him happy with another woman makes her realize she was placing unrealistic demands on him, and the reason they broke up was Kelly and not the guy. Or is it just that she now knows he is capable of love, it's just that he didn't want to love her? Not sure. Probably a little bit of both.

8. "Behind These Hazel Eyes" -- Very, very similar to the last song. She's completely destroyed by the break up. But since he's happy with another woman (please note that him being with another woman is not mentioned in the lyrics to this song, but it follows from the prior continuity), she will not let him see her sad. She has to pretend to be as happy as he is, in order to not make it seem like he has "won". Dig: "I told you everything/Opened up and let you in/You made me feel alright/For once in my life". Once again, not inconceivable and perhaps likely that this is from the same perspective as the singer in "Because of You" and "Hear Me". It does kind of read as a call out to "You Find Me". The song takes on new meaning when viewed from the lens of the rest of the album, rather than as a statement on its own.

9. "Gone" -- Once again, may not appear to fit the continuity on the surface, but I actually view this song as occuring contemporaneously to "Since U Been Gone". As I see it, just as she is starting to get over this guy and be ready to move on to another, the guy breaks up with his new girlfriend (as from "IHMFLY"). He immediately comes back to Kelly, asking her to take him back, give him one last chance, etc. This is the moment she's always been waiting for! She's been pining for him, wanting him back so bad! But it is at this very moment, when he's back asking for her, that she realizes that, no, she can't ever go back to him. She's already over him and it would take too much out of her to give it another go around. Read the first verse: "What you see's not what you get/With you there's just no measurement/No way to tell what's real from what isn't there/Your eyes they sparkle/That's all changed into lies that drop like acid rain/You washed away the best of me/You don't care". Should seem familiar because it's the exact same lyrical content as previously in the album. She cannot take him back because she can never be sure if she really likes him or not, or if he ever really liked her. She was too shell shocked from the previous break up. (And once again, I'm not really sure if he was really sending mixed signals, or if she was so sickeningly co-dependent that anything he did didn't seem to pass muster by comparison.)

10. "Since U Been Gone" -- Everybody knows this of course. Now she's finally realizing that she's better off free from the shackles of co-dependency that her relationship was locking her under. Pay attention to specific lyrics such as: "And all you'd ever hear me say/Is how I pictured me with you/That's all you'd ever hear me say". This was somebody who was really into her boyfriend, before they broke up and she was devestated. But now she's free! Particularly compare "I can breathe for the first time" to "It's like I can't breathe" from "Addicted".

11. "Breakaway" -- A declaration of independence. She's over the guy, she's over her previous fears of opening up to anybody. She'll never forget the person she was, or her bad childhood, but she's grown away from it. Nice song.

I don't include "Beautiful Disaster (live)" in the continuity, because it's a different version of a song from the previous album. Could be interpreted as a moment of hesistation before she decides to break up with him. Between "Where Is Your Heart?" and "Walk Away". Not sure whether it would be before or after the correctly placed "Because Of You". I'd probably place it before.

OVERALL STORY: This is my interpretation of the overall story, summarizing the above. Girl grows up with bad childhood and refuses to make close friendships/relationships with people ("Because of You", "Hear Me"). Girl meets somebody new ("You Found Me") and is so excited to have somebody willing to be with her, she quickly goes overboard and becomes co-dependent ("Addicted"). Ultimately it seems they might not be right for each other, and he might not be as into her as she is into him ("Where Is Your Heart"). Remember that she's never been in a relationship before ("Hear Me") and so doesn't necessarily understand what constitutes a normal level of affection and commitment at any given point of a relationship. Suffering from the same kind of hurt of abandonment (or perceived abandonment) as her mom did ("Because of You" - "And now I cry in the middle of the night/For the same damn thing"), she decides to break up with him ("Walk Away"). Not that I think he was abusive, but that she understandably has fears of that. Ultimately realizing that it was her fault ("I Hate Myself For Losing You") upon seeing him with another woman, she is devestated. But to keep up appearances so as to seem like she's OK ("Behind These Hazel Eyes"), she pretends not to be. Ultimately, he wants to get back together with her, but she turns him down, unable to accept that he may really love her ("Gone"). She also realizes that her prior relationship with him was unhealthy and that she was better off without it ("Since U Been Gone"). Then it ends with a nice declaration of growth and independence ("Breakaway"). Much happier than Frank Kogan's story.

The concept is not as perfect as I have presented it above. There are a lot of the parts of the songs that don't really fit, I left those out in my analysis for obvious reasons. OK also the fact that there are many different songwriters for all of the different songs may make it unlikely that it intentionally tells one consistent story. So one could interpret it in a lot of ways, or declare that I am full of crap. But I think the above is a reasonable reading of the intent and meaning of the album, although it does require a hell of a lot of shuffling around of the tracks. Heck, even if it's not intentional, it is a very interesting coincidence, to me at least. Plus my reading makes the concept of the album consistent with the title of the album. Ultimately my favorite album of the 00's. Very underrated lyrics.



Anonymous ryan said...

Best example of an album NEEDING to be rearranged into a concept: Nick Lachey's "What's Left of Me".

"Breakaway" worked, that's why I don't think it matters. Granted - just one guy's opinion.

6:47 PM  
Blogger Frank Kogan said...

Here's a direct link to my Breakaway commentary (which is an analogy to the Hold Steady's Separation Sunday) - 'cept ilX is down for the time being, so the link won't work until it goes back up in a few days.

2:32 PM  
Blogger Frank Kogan said...

Another way to look at it is to notice the difference between the ones where Kelly's in the writing credits and the ones where she isn't. The Kelly-written ones have words that seem to fall over each other, shaggily emotional, not in a clear line or telling a clear story, and I think they're better for it. "Since U Been Gone," which she didn't write, is almost flawless, the words as well as the music. But "flawless" doesn't mean "inspired," and while the music is superb - the best on the album - the words are rather impersonal (though very good). And of course, other than "Walk Away," the anguish in the Kelly-written tracks is unremitting.

And there are other ways to approach this album. There's the story of Clif Magness playing dense metal guitar in pop contexts - Avril's "Unwanted" and Kelly's "Hear Me" both astonishingly good examples. And Moody & Hodges doing the same on "Addicted" (which was supposed to be a single but then someone - the record company, I assume - demurred, were probably scared to risk an out-and-out rock screamer on the pop audience), which really is of a piece with a lot that Moody & Hodges did on the first Evanescence album.

(The Shanks songs are well-produced but seem too nice in the context of the album, don't have the beauty, the ache, and the inventiveness he achieved consistently with Ashlee and Hilary and Lindsay. He seems to get duller the less teen he goes, Kelly sort of in the middle. I do love the (I presume) DioGuardi line, "There's no light at the end of a tunnel tonight/Just a bridge that I gotta burn.")

3:06 PM  

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