The New Pornographers: "The Jessica Numbers"
By Peter Hepburn | 6 July 2005
Halfway through the most anticipated release of this summer, the New Pornographers’ third album, Twin Cinema, there comes a song that just nails it. Considering the band, this means more than just "solid." For the New Pornographers, “nailing it” means hooks that will lodge themselves inextricably in your brain, choruses so huge and grand that they approach Beach Boys perfection, and composition so jaw-droppingly flawless that you’re left feeling sorry for the competition. Think about the past examples: “Testament to Youth in Verse,” “Letter from an Occupant,” “All for Swinging You Around” and “Execution Day” all come to mind. Yeah, “The Jessica Numbers” is that good. Maybe even a little better.
Twin Cinema is a step forward for the Pornographers, and “Jessica Numbers” reflects that. The hooks take a little longer to catch, and the whole composition is a bit more complex and certainly less straightforward, but in the end it’s just as rewarding. Kurt Dahle’s giant drum intro grabs you, and then Todd Fancey and Carl Newman fill the voids with stabbing guitars, letting Blaine Thurier’s understated synth line ride the melodic groove. Then we get the vocals, and, even with Neko Case not quite in top form, Newman, Case and Dahle are a dauntingly talented trio. With one of the best sets of cryptic Newman lyrics on the album, the three absolutely fly. “Let me through / Paper and fist / Jessica Numbers tell me if / We’re clear / Write me a storm / Just tape the letter to the door,” they belt out before hitting the chorus, where they split into one of those multi-part harmonies that they seem to have an innate gift for. None of it prepares you for the final chorus, where Fancey flips out in a perfect counterpoint to Dahle’s beat, and then the whole thing breaks down to a strummed acoustic finale.
It logs in at barely three minutes, and it’s one of those songs that you can barely comprehend. How can they pack that much into one song? How can they keep it from going overboard or ending up muddled? How does Newman write this stuff? How much more do these guys even have to prove?