Thursday, August 11th, 2011

Gotye ft. Kimbra – Somebody That I Used to Know

Sounds like we think it’s the bloke’s fault.


Edward Okulicz: Gotye’s weapon, best deployed on the stunning “Heart’s A Mess,” is his ability to portray isolation or weakness without slipping into self-indulgence. This single achieves the same ends through different means but retains his gift. Lyrically it’s a smart dissection of disconnection, and vocally, both performers give sympathetic performances; Kimbra’s short verse threatens to steal the show, but Gotye’s launch from quiet to half-wail is like a punch to the heart as well. Not only is it a very strong melody, I keep thinking I can sing Belinda Carlisle’s “Circle In The Sand” over it, which seals the deal.

Brad Shoup: Last week we rented the muddled, precious Ceremony. When it was over, at least, I could reach for “Somebody I Used to Know,” a much more winning portrait of post-relational dysfunction. Gotye’s part is indictment enough, but when Kimbra shows up for the rebuttal it’s exhilaratingly to-the-bone. The music is laceratingly playful, with the xylophone straight outta vintage Hollywood capers and the teasing space-movie effects in the chorus. I’d much rather hear the three-minute treatment than sit through a cinematic adaptation, that’s for sure.

Iain Mew: I love the way that the song starts off calmingly slow and bare with lots of gorgeous little echoing guitar details and Gotye waxing philosophical about “a certain kind of sadness” and being the bigger person after a breakup, only for him to get pushed a little too far, flip a switch and turn it into a cry of pure naked bitterness. It’s knowing, funny and moving, and the howling dismissal of the title is particularly delicious. Then he goes on to give Katy Perry Kimbra the chance to give her side of the story too, and it’s just as enjoyably cutting while feeling like a gracious gesture that links back to the opening.

Katherine St Asaph: The lyrics speak for themselves — they’re a bit like “And So Is Love,” a high compliment. On paper, you either relate or you don’t. The music assumes you do; certainly it doesn’t actively persuade at first. The verses are composed of precise notes almost disconnected from one another, making up instrumental parts that don’t seem to realize they’re in a song and not ticking away in empty rooms. Gotye’s vocals are quieter than both, sometimes hesitant and sometimes rushing the words, but always restrained, making it the more startling when Gotye wails out his chorus. The ending’s rote (especially in the video, which in retrospect seems composed entirely to get to the part where he’s “clothed” and she’s not), but by then the work is done. 

Michaela Drapes: A slow starter (and — depending on your point of view — un/fortunately not an Elliott Smith cover) that takes a just little too long to get to the good bits, which finally show up somewhere around the three-minute mark when Kimbra enters the scene and the whole thing explodes with a bottled up intensity worth waiting for. That being said, I’m mostly impressed with Walter de Backer’s incredible Gordon Sumner impersonation — which is really kind of eerie, honestly.

Jonathan Bradley: Fussily crafted in a way that suggests more concern for structural austerity than the big messy emotions great pop tunes are made for. That is until the chorus arrives, buoyed by a hearty wail from Walter de Backer reminiscent of Luke Hannigan on Lo-Tel’s first album, and busts apart the mannered proceedings in a welcome but unconvincing way. Here, function doesn’t benefit from form, and the gushing chorus interrupting these buttoned-down verses doesn’t suggest uncontainable feeling so much as Gotye only having one idea for this song. It’s a duet, by the way, but Kimbra’s only contribution is a different register.

Alfred Soto: Its success is dependent on believing one half of the vocal performances, and on that front Gotye’s wailing on the chorus fails, despite prodding from background noises that sound like a click track imitating fireflies. Kimbra, cooing imprecations like Stevie Nicks trapped in Kate Bush’s Fairlight, does better. A promising track restrained by the cutes.

Jonathan Bogart: If it weren’t for those too-long, too-dull opening verses, with their insular melodies and hesitating clumps of rhythm, this would sound right at home in a playlist of all the great forlorn, windswept pop songs of male inadequacy from the mid-80s sung by ex-frontmen of one-time rock bands: Sting, Peter Gabriel, Phil Collins, Don Henley, Rod Stewart. As it is, it rests uneasily in the looped present, uncommitted to its own cheesy heartfeltness.

Sally O’Rourke: “Somebody That I Used to Know” starts off like a slightly edgier version of the sensitive songwriter shtick, like maybe Damien Rice discovered glockenspiel and a sense of rhythm. But each repetition of that bass loop is like an ax striking a tree, each blow cutting deeper until the chorus splits it wide open. By the time Kimbra tells her side of the break-up, the track’s no longer a self-pitying mope, it’s a confession of how tightly the roles of victim and victimizer are entwined.

Zach Lyon: This is a bit insufferable until she gets her verse in and offers a counterpoint, letting us know that these are characters and his isn’t reliable. Until that point, he sounds like the worst type of indie rock douche dude, entitled and self-worshipping with a typical dash of armchair psychologist, forever un-self-aware. Expectedly, the chorus reveals him to be a whiny brat. He makes me think of Sonny from Treme. So her first line, which tells us he’s supposed to be a character, at least to an extent, is welcome. It’d be great if she got more than 16 bars, though, and if her verse didn’t end with that justification for their breakup (cheating ex machina?) only for the sake of a lyrical parallel. Popular media would like to convince me that women are unable to break up with their boyfriends/husbands unless there’s another woman involved, so this was disappointing in that regard.

Jake Cleland: Oh fuck, this song is devastating. Tricking yourself into believing somebody is perfect for you, making excuses for it, feeling depressed and defeated when the reality constantly fails to meet what you thought was something real until finally the other person bails and stops talking to you and you wonder what kind of heinous liar could keep telling you that she cares about you even when she’s acting in a way that’s totally contradictory. And then it turns out that you were the asshole, imposing your addiction to melancholy on the unsuspecting person YOU said you cared about and apparently wanting them to be happy but then resenting them for it, and you know you were a terrible person and you still are because you’re still making it all about yourself and, damn, doesn’t that just make it even worse? You’ve inflicted yourself upon someone else but the only thing you can do is blame them for it.

25 Responses to “Gotye ft. Kimbra – Somebody That I Used to Know”

  1. Could we please not refer to him by his full name? I keep thinking we’re reviewing a single from Circus Money and my hopes are dashed every. single. time.

  2. Sally’s blurb is making me die of jealousy.

  3. Me too.

  4. Also: “cooing imprecations like Stevie Nicks trapped in Kate Bush’s Fairlight”. Wish I’d thought of that.

  5. Ha! I almost didn’t bother submitting it because it seemed unfinished. Thanks!

  6. And just like that, this song is now #1 in Australia. I knew it was a strong song with potential mainstream appeal, but I would not have picked it to even go top 5. I expect it could be a fairly big US/UK hit with a bit of a push (i.e. appears on the soundtrack to a TV show)

  7. so this finally debuts in both US and UK pop charts this week – #91 and #36 respectively. I’m pretty sure it’ll get higher, deservedly so.

  8. youtube viral cover no doubt was a major factor

  9. Was it, though? Seems like he’s been getting a U.S. push before that. I remember a few months ago noticing Gotye had a show at the Bowery Ballroom in February (I think) and then at the same time (this must’ve been in October or so) that it was ALREADY SOLD OUT.

  10. 23m views in about a week or so is half what the original video got in 6 months. This probably explains why it’s in the pop charts as opposed to Alternative radio charts.

  11. I think it was well on its way before that video although no doubt it helped a bit.

    He sold out London shows way in advance too, going up to a large-ish venue, but that’s always a difficult one to draw much from with acts who are already bigger abroad in places from which there are sizeable immigrant communities. The Cat Empire can sell out the Shepherds Bush Empire too but doesn’t mean that they’re likely to have a hit here any time soon. Hell, Eason Chan can play the O2 Arena, which is hard to get my head round.

    Not saying that the New York one doesn’t mean something, just that he might have it a bit easier than new US acts as well?

  12. Congrats, Singles Jukeboxers, for turning me on to this song last August. It’s the only time I ever heard a song here and posted the video on Facebook, telling friends I thought it was cool.

    Eight months later, beyond my wildest imaginings and probably yours, this happened:

  13. Yay! Now all the Pazz/Jop voters who missed the boat last year and are ashamed of ourselves can invoke the Year Of Impact Rule in good conscience.

  14. Clearly we have to improve our recommendation average.

  15. Well, if some people hadn’t given “Call Me Maybe” [3]s…

  16. If anyone reads this, which I suppose is likely, the lyrics to this are nothing like “And So Is Love” and I have no idea what I was thinking.”

  17. Ouch, Iain.

    Also fair. I’m a poor barometer, Chris!

  18. Also, in my defense, I really can’t stand Josh Ramsay. My apologies to Jepsen for making her lovely song collateral damage.

  19. Edward, do you have any idea how right you’d be?

  20. Thought it was a great song, but I didn’t think “hit” until I saw the video, because I hadn’t foreseen radio getting behind it, not here, not in the bigger markets. After I saw the video, I was pretty sure it would be a big hit globally.

    This + “Call Me Maybe” proves that SOMETIMES the Jukebox knows.

  21. I doubt this, but the version of this song that was a huge hit everywhere but America in 2011: was it the original or the sort-of-pop remix? Which is just the original with very corny dance drums programmed on top of it? It’s the only version that plays on the big pop stations, though the original plays on the more adult-oriented top 40 stations.

  22. Those added drums! They’re like something out of Jon Secada. Makes me hate coming across the song on the radio.

  23. I was a with-bonus-remixes CD single kid, so I like the variety.

  24. Yeah, I heard this on the radio for the first time the other day – the version with just some cheap beats slapped on. It was pretty disappointing but in a way understandable since it was played in between two thumping house tracks.

    In other news, the (terrible) Tiesto remix has topped Billboard’s Dance chart.

  25. Austin’s adult alternative station is bragging about being the first in town to play this. In November.