#45 – “Cyclops Rock” (2001)

Mink Car
A.S.: Happy Presidents’ Day!
L.K.: We didn’t get a presidential song today, but uh… it has a president in it. Sometimes.
A.S.: It’s always better with a president in it.
L.K.: Sometimes it has an evil doll, but sometimes it’s Richard Nixon.
A.S.: Well, the evil doll’s in it all the time, I just like it when Chucky gives some of the spotlight to Tricky Dick.

L.K.: Yeah, the Nixon lyric is definitely superior. Do you remember the Beachland Ballroom concert from this September, when Flans sang “Nixon” and the whole section of the crowd we were in went nuts?

A.S.: Oh I remember. I was among the nuts-goers.
L.K.: I was too, because it was exciting. And Linnell just kind of looked at us like we were insane for a second, and then went back to whatever else he was looking at.
A.S.: LINNELL LOOKED AT US, OMGGGGGGGG. ZZZZZZZ. !!!!!!!!
L.K.: Well, this time he actually was looking at us. As a group. Because uh… we might have been overreacting. Take that, delusional fangirls at your first concert.
A.S.: But this song.
L.K.: But yeah man, let’s talk about this song. This song rocks!
A.S.: It’s a great, chunky power-popper.  Vaguely Cheap Trick-ish?
L.K.: Possibly? My dad hated this song, it was one of his least favorite songs from Mink Car and I don’t know why.
A.S.: It’s a very superbly constructed and produced song – all the guitar flourishes, the chimes, bari sax, changes in drum patterns, back-up vocals…
L.K.: Oh I love the chimes. They sound suspiciously like the chimes for The El in Chicago though. Speaking of the production for this song, it took me years to notice that there is a siren in the background of the song in the last chorus.
A.S.: Is there?  I mostly pay attention to the little “doot doot” backup vocals.
L.K.: I’ve never lived anywhere where I wasn’t hearing constant police cars and ambulances, so I was never sure if that siren was part of the song or not, but after hearing it in siren-free zones, I noticed it really is part of the song. Doot-doot? See, I never noticed that. I was too busy being distracted by sound effects.
A.S.: What a great production number.
L.K.: Let’s talk about the demo version for a second before we go back to the final studio version.
A.S.: The ska verse.
L.K.: The demo sounds totally different, even though the song itself is basically the same.
A.S.: Aside from the Nixon lyric, there’s really nothing about the demo that I like better; I think the final version was an almost complete improvement.
L.K.: A bunch of people apparently prefer the ska version? At least I’ve seen people complain online. I prefer the Mink Car version too, though.
A.S.: The demo is missing the bari sax, the great Dan Miller guitar lick, the drum off-beat hits…
L.K.: One thing in the final version that I’m not crazy about is the guest vocalist verse… if only Joe Strummer had been around!
A.S.: And yes, the guest verse.
L.K.: Oh, about that guitar lick… I believe either Dan or Danny came up with that, and then it made it into the final song.
A.S.: There are shades of it in the demo (before the “it was sweet” verse) but it’s not nearly as prominent. Anyway, Cerys Matthews‘ part in this song has really grown on me. Outside of this song, I know nothing about her, but I really like the conviction on the “I’m stuck in a van outside of New York” line. That said, Joe Strummer would likely have been better than just about anyone because Joe Strummer fuckin’ rules.
L.K.: She was in a band from the UK called Catatonia, I believe I think she literally just got the part because she happened to be in the recording studio the same day TMBG was in there recording stuff. “Joe was on the scene,” Flansburgh adds. “But Clive suggested Cerys, who coincidentally happened to be  working down the road. He’d just done a record with her. I didn’t know Cerys from Adam. She’s a total sport and has an incredible amount of  character.” Ah, so Clive Langer is the one responsible for the guest vocalist swap…
A.S.: Nothing against Cerys Matthews, but you don’t turn down Joe Strummer.
L.K.: Take it up with Langer and Winstanley, man.
A.S.: Maybe I will.
L.K.: What other songs did they produce on Mink Car… let’s see. “Bangs”, “I’ve Got A Fang”, and “My Man”. And then they also produced four tracks from Flood, including both “Birdhouse” and “Istanbul”.
A.S.: Okay, I can’t argue against those, I guess. But aghhhh Joe Strummer.
L.K.: Elvis Costello’s Nick Lowe-produced albums were better though! But anyway yeah, we’re getting onto a tangent about the producers. Did they even know they’d be able to get Joe Strummer to begin with? Or were they just sitting around going “Oh man, you know what would be awesome? If we got Joe Strummer to do a guest vocal.”
A.S.: Yeah, I hope this all just isn’t speculation or anything.  Sadly, we’ll never be able to ask Mr. Strummer about it.
L.K.: Yeah. This is just going to have to stay one of those crazy “what if” moments.
A.S.: I also think this song should have opened Mink Car.
L.K.: Really? 90% of their albums seems to start with a poppy Linnell-penned tune.
A.S.: Yeah, I think the chimes are a good introductory motif, and this is such a solid, energetic song to introduce the band of Dans. It’d be a great way to herald in the 2000s for TMBG, a bit better than “Bangs” I think.
L.K.: Perhaps, since a decade later “Cyclops Rock” seems to have still maintained a place on TMBG’s setlists, whereas “Bangs” has not. Man, Mink Car was such a weird album…
A.S.: It was… it is. But this is a straightforward highlight. We haven’t really touched on the lyrics much, although I supposed we’re to believe they’re all variants on this theme: “This is the story of a fellow who feels betrayed and beaten by a relationship, but is surviving. He compares himself to Chuckie [sic], from the Child’s Play movies.”
L.K.: There’s a lot of great, mean little one-liners in the lyrics. There are also some phrases that got recycled weirdly into other things, like “I’m Sick (Of This American Life)”.
A.S.: “There’s a whole new generation waiting to be wrecked by you” ranks among my favorite lyrics in the canon.
L.K.: I have a weird love of “It was sweet/Like lead paint is sweet/But the after-effect left me paralyzed.” The chorus to this song is mostly meaningless though. As is the bridge. What is “cyclops rock” anyway? For an angry-seeming song about a fucked-up relationship, the lyrics are awfully full of noise. Is this song supposed to literally be from the point of view of a cyclops? I guess that’s the thing that always confused me about it; If you take out the cyclops aspect it’s fairly straightforward otherwise.
A.S.: It might be the narrator’s way of admitting to himself that he only sees/focuses on certain things (“I just stare with my one glass eye”), likely to the detriment of the relationship. As far the chorus, “Cyclops rock” might be a dance (the theme continued in the Cerys Matthews verse, which is a list of dances). Or it could all just be a Residents reference. Or all of the above.
L.K.: But that bridge still makes no sense to me. The narrator is angry at somebody he taught a dance to?
A.S.: Because she broke his heart?
L.K.: This is why I don’t write song interpretations.
A.S.: Yeah, same here.
L.K.: Other than ,“This song is about a guy sniffing markers”… Oh, speaking of “Imaginary Friend” again… DAN! As I mentioned then and will mention again here, for this song, the shouting of the musician’s name doesn’t break any sort of 4th wall here or bother me in this song. Probably because it feels so much like part of the song itself. It’s a very organic sort of “DAN!”
A.S.: It’s just a fun little rock and roll trope put to good use.
L.K.: Wait wait, I’m just… thinking about that bridge again. Froog. Froog?
A.S.: Froog.
L.K.: I had no idea it was a thing! I thought it was a stupid made up word.
A.S.: I just kind of assumed it was and hoped I was right.
L.K.: You know, the bridge isn’t in the printed lyrics in the liner notes.
A.S.: Odd.
L.K.: No wonder I never really knew what the lyrics were to it.
A.S.: That damn bridge.  So full of mystery.
L.K.: It’s my least favorite part of the song and yet it’s the part I keep talking about.
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Comments
2 Responses to “#45 – “Cyclops Rock” (2001)”
  1. Nathan says:

    At a recent concert I attended, Flansburgh messed up on “Cyclops Rock” and had to start over again. The weird thing is that he sang “Nixon” the first time, and “Chucky” the second. It seems to be pretty random which one you’re going to get in a given performance.

    I always thought the lead vocal on the demo seemed off, like Flans had a cold or something. Well, he DID say he was sick right in the lyrics.

    • Ah, would this be the infamous “album release party” Stone Pony show from last July? I hear Flans flubbed a bunch of songs there and had to start them over. (IIRC, he claimed he was distracted by “Chris Christie’s medical records” while screwing up “Cyclops Rock”…or maybe that was “Meet James Ensor”, I forget. I just read recaps and saw a couple videos on youtube.)

      Yeah, now that you mention it, something does seem slightly “off” about the vocal on the demo, but I can’t quite put my finger on what it is.

      -L.K.

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