This piece is part three of what I’m calling “Copeland Week,” a look back at Copeland’s discography in preparation for the release of Ixora on November 24. Currently, I’m researching the narrativity of popular music, so I’m letting a lot of that line of thinking bleed into these blogs.
Even if “Sleep” was the fever dream of In Motion, it was still only a premonition of darker, more troubled dreams to come. When Eat, Sleep, Repeat came out in 2006, it was Copeland’s most expansive, intricate, and wonderfully performed record yet. A beautiful, haunting dirge into the mind of a troubled lovelorn sleeper, Eat, Sleep, Repeat continues the story of Copeland with more resonance, more wit, and more conviction than ever before in the band’s career.
The dreamy (or perhaps even nightmarish) atmosphere of Eat, Sleep, Repeat is introduced in the form of “Where’s My Head,” with a singular, defined yet mellow xylophone backbone. The song evokes the feeling of barely knowing if you’re dreaming, noticing the little, strange compulsions (“I just woke to eat some chocolate and go straight back to bed”), and the small things you’re experiencing that just don’t seem quite right (“the only chance that I have tonight/is if something I that ate made my dreams not right”). From this point on throughout the course of Eat, Sleep, Repeat, the narrator seems just on the line between waking life and sleep—often times unsure of what state he’s actually in.
The title track seems to make clear what’s troubling our narrator: “it occurred to me at once/that love could be a great illusion…that love gets everything it asks for” In the song, the narrator tosses and turns as he considers the subject of love, to the tune of understated synthesizers and lush, enveloping post-rock guitars. He appears to be stuck in a sort of damaged relationship, and now, in the unexpected clarity of the middle of the night, he is realizing why—“all this time you didn’t know love.” The interesting thing here is the sort of didactic tone taken in these lines, in continuation of the “fall in love and hold nothing back” portion of In Motion’s closing track. The growth in knowledge and experience is evident over the course of Copeland’s catalog.
The narrator’s situation is made even more transparent in “Control Freak,” a steadier track in which the narrator is cognizant of his waking state, and trying to make sense of his dreams: “and when I fell asleep, it plagued my dreams/and 30 bits of glass had become my teeth.” The chorus repeats “you’re freaking me out/and I could run like a coward for the door/but I’ll never get out/you’re freaking me out,” The narrator feels trapped here, but the song itself is sober—even it’s apex is in the form of a forceful but still calm falsetto delivery from Marsh and a near wistful string section. This is not a moment of panic, but a moment of lucidity—the narrator has felt like this for some time, but he is just now realizing it.
The lines between asleep and awake are blurred and defined by the music of the songs. Whereas the waking “Control Freak” is more upbeat, the keys more thickly struck, “The Last Time You Saw Dorie” is nearly spectral sounding—the music almost hidden behind a filter of dreaminess, with a multilayered Marsh poking through after an extended intro, the music unreactive to his entrance into the song. Meanwhile, “Love Affair” seems to fall somewhere in-between—with dream-like images (“she’d lie on her bed/and stare into the harsh white light”) contrasting with more direct, repeated pleas—as if the narrator is speaking in his sleep, harrowed over this feeling of being controlled, stuck: “just let me run where I want to run.”
The interesting thing about Eat, Sleep, Repeat in comparison to In Motion and Beneath Medicine Tree is that none of these problems are necessarily resolved by the album’s end—a clear climax is not apparent, and the album goes for a more resonant ending in the form of the magnificent “When You Thought You’d Never Stand Out.” The album’s final track led in by an airy piano line, one which sounds almost like a morning bell. As the narrator slowly rises from sleep, he begins to understand what he must do to be happy, thinking of the control he had in “other lives,” in which it was he who “wrote the plotline.” As the song goes on, the layers of piano, drums, vocals, and guitars grow and expand as the narrator remembers his childhood and his feelings of difference and inadequacy, when all he wanted was to enjoy the youthful time he had left: “In younger days/I’m stealing bases while my mother prays/and dreading to wake/longing for one more play.” As another, female vocalist comes in, the narrator pictures the difficulties he will have in severing his ties with those who have made him feel badly about himself, have caused him this night of fever dreaming, reminding him of the time when they rescued him from isolation—“didn’t I see you when you thought you’d never stand out.” All the while, Marsh repeats “they’re gonna come to light tonight,” reminding himself of the happiness he pictured, and how imperative it is that he not suppress his desires because he is afraid to stand up for himself.
This confrontation does not occur within the narrative of the album, but as the music dissolves and we’re left with just the vocal refrains, it feels as if the narrator has risen from submission, that he realizes that all of these worries and solutions and problems he envisioned in his nightmarish night are very real, and that he must now deal with them in the light of day. We are left to ponder what action narrator will take.
Copeland’s first album since 2008, Ixora, comes out November 24. iTunes pre-order.