#102 – “Extra Savoir-Faire” (1994)

John Henry
L.K.: More bass clarinet goodness for you!
A.S.: Yesssss. This song has some pretty prominent bass clarinet action, which is always a good thing. I dare anyone to name me a shitty song with serious bass clarinet in it.
L.K.: It’s got some fun wind scoring in general.
A.S.: It does!  The arrangement for this is pretty neat, the 2-against-3 thing going on in the main lick.
L.K.: For as much as John Henry was THE BIG ROCK BAND ALBUM, it was still full of little songs like this that totally defy conventional rock instrumentation.
A.S.: And it’s all the better for it. A 57-minute album without variety would get tiring.  That’s why all those early Ramones records that everyone loves are so short. I think the first one is under half an hour long? Yeah, about half an hour[This link on YouTube is pitched a bit lower/slowed down a bit… my CD transfer lists it at 29:16 for all you Ramones sticklers out there.]
L.K.: Well, even the shortest TMBG album is still at least a half hour. They’re not punk, man.
A.S.: And there’s always a lot of different stuff going on.
L.K.: I personally like John Henry, but a lot of people actively dislike it for its length. See, I grew up with jazz CDs that were always as many songs as could possibly fit onto them, so I am still sort of stuck with the mindset that a CD-released album should be 75 minutes long.
A.S.: It doesn’t wear out its welcome to me, partly thanks to songs like “Extra Savoir-Faire” and “O Do Not Forsake Me” and “Window” – songs that might not wow listeners on their own but fit like a glove in the album’s track ordering
L.K.: Well, all of those are also songs people tend to dislike too.
A.S.: Which is very strange. I have no idea why “Extra Savoir-Faire” gets such a bad rep.
L.K.: I have seen people taking issue with the smarmy narrator of this song, but I think they must be disregarding TMBG’s usual caution against taking their narrators at their words.
A.S.: Oh come on! Man, if people criticized I dunno… Nick Cave based on his choice of narrators, he’d be vilified. (Okay, so maybe he has been vilified by some folks, but you get what I’m saying, right?)
L.K.: I don’t know how anybody could complain about a TMBG song based on its narrator, really, because some of them might be a bit stuck-up, but they’re all completely harmless. Even the murderers seem totally non-threatening. A They Might Be Giants brand Unreliable Narrator is still not going to be that unreliable because he’s not going to be a child molester or something deeply detestable… he’s just going to be a mildly irritating person.
A.S.: Like the guy on “Extra Savoir-Faire”, and although the Johns are far too smart to ever explicitly express their disdain for any of these characters they sketch out, it’s pretty clear that this guy Flansburgh is singing as in this song is a pantomime.  You don’t see “guys on steroids” walking around asking themselves, “What’s a man like me supposed to do with all this extra savoir-faire?”  So that’d likely endear the composition for anyone who can’t stand those sorts of people. So, really, why don’t people like this song? Other than I guess that it’s not some big up-tempo rock n roller or something.
L.K.: It’s laid-back, but again, there’s nothing wrong with that as a great way to space things out on a longer album.
A.S.: Aye.
[“Extra Savoir-Faire demo begins 2 minutes, 57 seconds into Podcast 33A.]
L.K.: I’m going back and relistening to the demo of this song right now, because I forgot a demo of this even existed until just now. It doesn’t sound noticeably different from the final version though, possibly because it only predates the album version by a couple of months. It uses the same arrangement that wound up on the album.
A.S.: Still really cool to hear though.  The one podcast where they collected a bunch of John Henry demos was one of my favorite podcasts, along with (of course) the 1983 demo one.
L.K.: You know, I love when Flans goes up for those high notes at the end of the chorus, but I hate how he’s almost impossible to understand when he does so.
A.S.: I don’t really mind that so much.  A nice little melodic turn there.
L.K.: Oh, I just remembered this version:
A.S.: Oh man, back when magazines did things like give away CD-ROMs.
A.S.: Back when people read magazines.
L.K.: Ah, the mid-90s. I do think it loses something without the horns, but it certainly doesn’t sound terrible without them.
A.S.: This seems to have been one of those songs that got a lot of live rotation in support of the album it was on and then immediately fell off the setlist forever. I guess I’m kind of surprised that it was played live a lot to begin with but at the same time we can chalk this one up on a list of about 200+ songs I’d love to see back on setlists again.
L.K.: Again, crossing my fingers for a John Henry show at Mohegan Sun this year or next…
A.S.: Ooooh yes. Speaking of setlists, I was thinking about this the other day: for as much as people just love giving bands like Grateful Dead and Phish shit for being jam bands or whatever, one thing you have to respect about them is that they put a lot of effort into their setlists.  They’re famous for having a different set for pretty much every single concert. And they typically run the gamut of their entire career. They’re also both bands with catalogues of I want to say 300+ songs, so it’s not a particularly easy feat for them either. Just wanted to throw that out there.
L.K.: Nah, I think that’s worth throwing out, since TMBG setlists tend to get pretty codified over the course of any particular tour, not to mention over time as a whole. I think everybody is okay with hearing “Birdhouse In Your Soul” at every show, but some other songs, not so much.
A.S.: I mean TMBG aren’t nearly as bad as bands who just play the same thing over and over and over.  Or who’ll switch out like… two songs between years and think that’s enough to vary things. But credit is due to the Dead and Phish for that alone, if not other reasons too.
2 Responses to “#102 – “Extra Savoir-Faire” (1994)”
  1. People don’t like John Henry?

    People don’t like John Henry because it’s TOO LONG?

    People are fucking STUPID.

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