Being an artist is often analogous to being an attention-seeker, and that’s probably why brashness and energy are essential for anyone seeking a career in music. There are very few musicians who would like their work to be described as “soporific” – making your audience switch off and drift away is exactly what they’re trying hard not to do. There is ambient music, of course, but that’s off in a world by itself. For gigging bands, playing in noisy bars in front of drunk people, the temptation must always be to get faster and louder.
“Goodnight” was never played live, of course. How could it be? A concept piece that sounded like falling asleep would be unlikely to go down well with even the more sober late night punters. Instead it’s something of a studio creation, reliant on subtle production tricks and atmospherics, created as a low-key closer to the ‘Dogs Are Everywhere’ EP.
Descriptions of the deserted night-time streets of the city are fairly commonplace by this point. The innovation here is the introduction of the intimate spoken-word narrative. It’s a vital element in the band’s sound for the rest of their career, and for good reason. Limited as he was as a crooner, Jarvis has always had a sonorous, authoritative timbre to his voice when speaking, and the freedom gained from abandoning the structures and conventions of singing allowed him to present much more vividly realized material and play with the natural cadences of his voice rather than be constrained by it.
For the first half of ‘Goodnight’ he guides you gently back home to your house before lulling you to sleep. Instruments start to fade in – first organ and then a beautiful dulcimer backing. Both sound like they are guiding you to heaven. Meanwhile an odd counterpoint chorus pops in and out, like a dark thought niggling at your subconscious – something’s not quite right. The imagery becomes increasingly hazy until “there’s something you’ve forgotten” and we launch into the now-customary nightmare sequence, a panic that if we’re going to heaven then – of course! – that means leaving life behind. This nightmare is thankfully less jarring than usual, the backing continuing to increase in intensity, but not launching into a different tune. Jarvis is singing again, but his vocals have been treated to sound resonant and metallic, and are mixed low enough to avoid the silliness of ‘Master of The Universe’.
‘Goodnight’ is in its own quiet little way a bold leap forward. It would’ve been nice if Jarvis could have gone with the concept, trusted his speaking voice to carry the entire track (instead of launching into an ill-advised whispered version of his croon on the choruses) and not felt the need to add the usual gothic doom to the conclusion, but for a couple of minutes at least we really have something rather special.