A brief aside to begin: With Combo Audio’s “Romanticide,” we’re getting into fairly obscure territory here. Case in point: whenever I’ve been doing research for these posts (Yes, research! Do you think I just pour a glass of whiskey and knock this out? I mean, I do, but there’s a bit of poking around first) I’ve run into countless lyrics pages for each song. Not so for this one. “Romanticide” has a mere two pages devoted to publishing its lyrics. The band’s allmusic.com page doesn’t even list its discography or a brief bio; the sole piece of information published there is a reference to this Living in Oblivion compilation. Plus, it’s not even the most common song called “Romanticide” out there (that honor goes to some goth metal band called Nightwish). In fact, there’s so little information out there about this song that by the second page of Google results, this blog pops up thanks to last week’s post. So give a listen to the song first via the link above. Otherwise, you’re going to be bored stiff.
“Romanticide” follows an almost quintessential New Romantic song structure. The first and second verses are nearly identical, save for the opening stanzas, and contain a couple almost rhymes (yourself/health) when the words aren’t flat-out identical (out/out). The lyrics are built around a prominent chorus, with everyone in the band chipping in for the lead-in (“It’s a clear! Cut! Case!”). The drums are the loudest things in the mix, the keyboards sound like a harpsichord, and the guitarist appears to have nipped out for a bit to eat during the session. All it’s really missing is a properly overwrought bridge, though the turn of phrase that substitutes for it (“It’s not losing you, it’s just feeling lost”) is exactly the kind of clever wordplay that leaves stoners breathless and has been getting “sensitive guys” laid since time immemorial. In all manner of presentation, the song sounds as if it were composed by those who’ve studied at The Dream Academy under Professor Ultravox.
So it’s a bit of a surprise to discover that they’re from Urbana, IL.
The idea behind the chorus is brilliant. Rag on emo if you like, but there was no genre of music more romantically self-involved, more destructively navel-gazing than New Romanticism. This guy is killing himself, not necessarily because his heart is broken, but because he’s continuing to ruminate over this woman who’s tossed him aside with so little regard that she couldn’t even be bothered to have an argument with him before throwing him out. And now he is so destroyed that he cannot even summon up the good graces to tip his waitress, while he sits there taking up a table that could very well be used by two people who would probably order more than the measly cup of coffee and order of fries (with a side of ranch dressing) that he’s fussing over.
There’s a line in High Fidelity that goes “Did I listen to pop music because I was miserable? Or was I miserable because I listened to pop music?” I think of it every time I hear the lines of this song, along with a piece of literary criticism that I picked up somewhere along the way about the character of Romeo in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Someone – it may have been my 8th grade English teacher – said that Romeo was in love with the idea of being in love. It wasn’t so much the lady who was important, as it was the feeling she engendered within him. Both reflections speak of a kind of young man who tortures himself with that which he cannot have. It’s an unattainable – and in some cases unquantifiable – love that will always elude him, while the love that will ultimately be the best for him slips away quietly without his notice. In movies, said young man usually comes to his senses at the end (see also: Eric Stoltz in Some Kind of Wonderful), but in real life, this doesn’t always happen, and he always mourns a bit for what might have been.
AAAAAnyway, the song is a trifle, but it’s a well-constructed trifle. Little but sugar at its center, but easily stacks up against the best of its genre, which brings us back around to the obscurity of this song. Like one chocolate in a box full of them, there is little to suggest this band had any impact on the 80s at all, and merely blended in with the rest. A Google search about Combo Audio is more likely to turn up information about RCA cables than anything else. Yet I discovered a couple fan sites that were quite effusive in their praise of the band, who apparently hailed not from London, but from Urbana, IL.
All this is further evidence of a long-held theory of mine that no matter how unknown the band, no matter how early on in its career it might be or no matter how past their prime they are, there will always be three to five people standing near the front of the stage at its live shows, singing along with every word, with at least one girl dancing around like she is a little tipsy on cherry wine, while at her Senior Prom that she is attending with the best-looking boy at school. If the band is no longer performing live, there were most assuredly be at least three to five people who will proclaim the band to be “incredibly underrated” and the best of a series of bands in a particular “scene,” a scene with which most other people are not familiar thereby rendering said statement unassailable in its logic.
And so it is with Combo Audio’s “Romanticide,” where it matters not the quantity of love, but the quality. Not the longevity, but the intensity.