"For I have known them all already, known them all--"
December 20, 2009 11:53 PM   Subscribe

Songs that are thematically similar to "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" and Hamlet: emotional isolation, wasted youth, life consumed by contemplation rather than action, etc.

I realize that this request is semi-ridiculous/overly specific/spectacularly nerdy, but these works have always resonated with me, and I'd like to translate the associated emotions to my other favorite medium. So far, I've managed to come up with "Hellhole Ratrace" by Girls, but I refuse to accept that themes universal enough to inspire two of the greatest literary works in existence have only produced a single good song. Suggestions?
posted by Gotham to Media & Arts (26 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
"The Birds in Your Garden" by Pulp. Great song, too tired now to find a link, sorry.
posted by drjimmy11 at 11:55 PM on December 20, 2009

Range Life, by Pavement.
posted by Rinku at 12:16 AM on December 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

Monochrome by Yann Tiersen.
posted by (alice) at 12:30 AM on December 21, 2009

well, there are an absolute ton of them. I feel like this was more of a thing in the 90s than it is now, but..

Soft Cell Youth
Cat Power The Greatest
Hole Petals

jeez maybe Nirvana's entire In Utero album but at least
Serve the Servants, Pennyroyal Tea
posted by citron at 12:36 AM on December 21, 2009

Don't Just Do Something by Spiritualized
posted by limon at 12:39 AM on December 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

I would argue that Less than Jake is where you should be looking. In fact, a large number of 3rd wave ska bands dealt with everything you've just listed.

History of a Boring Town is along those lines, as well as Look What Happened.

From a more recent album, The Rest of My Life is a bit slower, but filled with regret over inaction and missed chances.

I guess I never really thought about it, but I love Prufrock, and I never really connected the themes there with one of my favorite bands.

Check out Slapstick as well, and many of the bands that came out of their breakup follow similar themes, like Lawrence Arms and Alkaline Trio. For Lawrence Arms, try 100 Resolutions.
posted by Ghidorah at 12:45 AM on December 21, 2009

XTC's Making Plans for Nigel is rocking the whole measuring life with coffee spoons thing. Like others said, disaffected ennui is a strong contender for the dominant theme of pop in the last several decades, so the question is very broad.

Radiohead has a lot of songs that meet your criteria.. here's a couple.
Fake Plastic Trees
The Bends
posted by limon at 12:48 AM on December 21, 2009

limon: Yeah, those, and to some extent No Surprises, though our protagonist is a family man.
posted by elektrotechnicus at 12:55 AM on December 21, 2009

These Days by Nico
posted by salvia at 12:59 AM on December 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

I feel like the complete later works of Morrissey apply, though the more directly he treats the theme, the less I tend to like it (as in the recent b-side "The Never-Played Symphonies").

But there are many exceptions. Among others, I'd say the swampy and chaotic title track of Maladjusted, the wry and urbane "Trouble Loves Me" from the same album, and "Life Is a Pigsty" from Ringleader of the Tormentors -- less lyrically witty but with its own specific kind of grand waste.

Two older b-sides also fit this idea very well: "I'd Love To" which is a bit slight but insightful; also the self-consciously soliloquizing piano ballad "I've Changed My Plea To Guilty." Both of these are collected on "My Early Burglary Years." If you go all the way back to the Smiths, of course, he sings more directly about isolation, but I don't think he gets into wasted youth or the specific hell of being overwhelmed by contemplation long-term until later.

I would second any Pulp recommendation, but don't know them well enough to really make one.
posted by thesmallmachine at 1:03 AM on December 21, 2009

You might like Magazine's "Song From Under The Floorboards," which even has a literary pedigree since it's an extremely blatant tribute to Notes from Underground.

Aimee Mann, "Momentum." Well, honestly, the complete works of Aimee Mann, especially post-Bachelor No. 2; The Forgotten Arm gives it a fictional/nostalgic treatment with contact sports, but almost any song on her other recent albums is guaranteed to look at it somehow, in a lighter or heavier way. I'm thinking especially of the absolutely beautiful "It's Over" from Smilers (which does it in the second person) and "Invisible Ink" from Lost in Space.
posted by thesmallmachine at 1:13 AM on December 21, 2009

Waiting for My Real Life to Begin - Colin Hay
posted by granted at 3:31 AM on December 21, 2009

the specific hell of being overwhelmed by contemplation

I know it's over
and it never really began
but in my heart it was so real
and you even spoke to me and said:

"If you're so funny
then why are you on your own tonight?
and if you're so clever
then why are you on your own tonight?
if you're so very entertaining
then why are you on your own tonight?
if you're so very good looking
why do you sleep alone tonight?
I know - because tonight is just like any other night
that's why you're on your own tonight
with your triumphs and your charms
while they're in each other's arms..."
posted by granted at 3:38 AM on December 21, 2009

One more: Alone Again Or by Love.

Some Magnetic Fields songs have this feel to them, as well.
posted by granted at 3:41 AM on December 21, 2009

Another Pulp recommendation - "A little soul"?
posted by runincircles at 3:44 AM on December 21, 2009

Just about anything by Magazine, since these topics run through Devoto's writing regularly: Burst, Parade, Permafrost, You never knew me.

Joy Division: Insight, and Twenty Four Hours.
posted by minimii at 5:22 AM on December 21, 2009

Pretty much everything Elliott Smith did could fit into here, if you'll take "life consumed by heroin rather than action" instead of "life consumed by contemplation rather than action." St. Ides Heaven is one of my favorites of his.
posted by The corpse in the library at 6:35 AM on December 21, 2009

"Watching the Wheels" - John Lennon
posted by missjenny at 7:06 AM on December 21, 2009

I've always felt that "The Dangling Conversation" by Simon and Garfunkel captured the tone of Prufrock exceptionally well.

Many of the songs on the following list match the "wasted youth" and "emotional isolation" themes best. First, a warning: They are all from my "depressing winter mix".

"Both Sides Now" by Joni Mitchell

"The Freshman" by The Verve Pipe

"Holding Back the Years" by Simply Red

"This Train Don't Stop There Anymore" by Elton John

"The River" by Bruce Springsteen
posted by strangememes at 7:45 AM on December 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

Ben Folds Five - Army
posted by speicus at 7:58 AM on December 21, 2009

Actually the whole album The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner fits.
posted by speicus at 7:59 AM on December 21, 2009

Obvious it may be, but "Time" by Pink Floyd fits the bill perfectly.
posted by ROTFL at 10:52 AM on December 21, 2009

Bright Eyes "Loose Leaves" and "From a Balance Beam"
posted by haveanicesummer at 11:20 AM on December 21, 2009

Breakdown by Handsome Boy Modeling School

and, of course: How Soon is Now. Yeah, Morrissey's probably your main man in this regard.
posted by granted at 8:38 PM on December 21, 2009

No mention of Afternoons and Coffeespoons by Crash Test Dummies?
posted by SisterHavana at 8:50 PM on December 21, 2009

Yeah, Morrissey/The Smiths. Hatful of Hollow pretty much start-to-finish.
posted by drlith at 6:42 AM on December 22, 2009

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