I Didn’t See It Coming

by John Holbo on October 21, 2010

While busying myself with this and that, I began listening to the new Belle and Sebastian album, Write About Love. The first track, “I Didn’t See It Coming”. But! I didn’t realize iTunes was on shuffle, so the next track up was, naturally, Iron Maiden, “Prodigal Son”, off their second album, Killers. I wasn’t focusing, didn’t instantly recognize the track. But it gradually impinged on my sphere of phenomenological awareness that I could not possibly be listening to the new Belle and Sebastian album, however cheeky these twee English (Scottish?) monkeys might be trying to be. So I ask you: at what point in “Prodigal Son” does it become metaphysically impossible that this is a Belle and Sebastian song? (Now, of course, given it actually is an Iron Maiden song, in a sense it’s a trick question. But never mind that.)

A) 0.01. From the very first second it just couldn’t be Belle and Sebastian.
B) 0.10. These arpeggios.
C) 0.16. Those drums.
D) 0.27. When it rocks.
E) 1.16 The vocals.

Or is there in actual, possible fact some Borgesian/Lewisian counterpart to our world in which Iron Maiden never recorded this song, in which Belle and Sebastian write and perform an identical song on their new album, Write About Love, with the help of some guy’s guest vocals. And how’s that working out for them?

UPDATE: I guess this is somehow related to the general issue of British austerity measures, but I couldn’t say how.



Phil 10.21.10 at 9:07 am

A. Belle & Seb don’t do drones. (I wasn’t aware that Iron Maiden *did*, mind you.)


sg 10.21.10 at 9:17 am

I think there’s an important metaphysical issue of Iron Maidenness to be answered first, because the Irons changed direction on their next album, new singer and all that. So before you can ask at what point it’s not a B&S song, you have to establish whether it is truly an Iron Maiden song.

If, for example, it were The Trooper, then the obvious answer would be “from the very first note.” If it were The Number of the Beast then the answer would be “from the moment Satan conceived of the concept of Iron Maiden as perfect vehicles for his will” – which, for all we know, could have been millions of years ago.

But for any song on Killers it’s a little more complex. Had they even become Satan’s servants yet? Surely there’s something in Plato that can answer these questions?


CircSqu 10.21.10 at 11:38 am

They are twee but they are most definitely Scottish!


Irrelephant 10.21.10 at 11:55 am

I know you want to play, but the much more intereting thng is it had nothing to do with the music. It was all in your head.

Ever been dreaming, or in that hypnogogic state between sleep and waking and the phone rings? And rather than actually wake up, the ringing is incorporated into the dream? The amazing and fascinating plasticity of your brain is at work. And you, in concentration, managed to incorporate Iron Maiden into your Belle and Sebastian phase space. Not a mashup. More like synesthesia (sp?)


Peter Nunns 10.21.10 at 12:07 pm

It’s more of a standardized test question, with that multiple choice format. And that’s simply not the sort of thing you can do with the arts.


Matt McG 10.21.10 at 1:25 pm

The idea of them doing an Iron Maiden cover isn’t entirely far fetched, either. They do a lot of odd covers live. They attempted Europe’s ‘The Final Countdown’ at one gig, but failed [fan request, from the audience].


Matt Heath 10.21.10 at 1:32 pm

I think it’s not until E. B&S are quite capable of sounding nothing like B&S.


JRoth 10.21.10 at 2:29 pm

Actually, the vocals* are more like B&S than the drums at 0:16 (I can kind of buy the guitar). But honestly, it’s the production that reads as anti-B&S more than anything. No one would ever listen to that Iron Maiden song and think, “This is kind of like a Belle & Sebastian song,” but it’s still a lot closer than you’d ever think.

* presumably by one of the lesser members getting his shot at recording one of his own compositions


Flaffer 10.21.10 at 2:52 pm

Couldn’t the counterpart be a possible world in which Iron Maiden did twee until they crossed over to metal with Prodigal Son (and the individuals of Belle and Sebastian never got together as a band)? Which would one choose? Oh yeah, they both exist. QED.


onymous 10.21.10 at 3:21 pm

If “Your Cover’s Blown” had been recorded by someone other than B&S, would you also believe that it couldn’t have been a B&S song? They’re fairly versatile. (I’m trying to imagine Stuart doing death-metal cookie-monster vocals. It’s pretty amusing. I would pay to hear that.)


JGabriel 10.21.10 at 3:26 pm

None of the above. The correct answer is 0:32, when the bass goes arpeggio.



Matt McG 10.21.10 at 4:10 pm

There’s also stuff like:


NMissC 10.21.10 at 5:30 pm

You missed one point– the chord change at :06 was a clue. The drums at :16, though, makes in unequivocally clear.


Anderson 10.21.10 at 7:49 pm

I’m not sure which I’d rather see guest-starring on B&S’s album … Norah Jones, or Iron Maiden.

Probably Iron Maiden.


Scooter 10.21.10 at 8:01 pm

Let’s not forget the late great Steven Wells’s description of B&S:
‘self-loving, knock-kneed, passive aggressive, dressed-up-in-kiddy-clothes, mock-pop-creepiness-peddling, smug, underachieving, real-pop-hating no-talents celebrating their own inadequacy with music so white it’s translucent’.


Anderson 10.21.10 at 10:07 pm

How did Wells die? Choking on his own adjectives?


Twisted_Colour 10.22.10 at 4:08 am

F) Spacetime. When the confluence of Belle & Sebastian and Iron Maiden destroyed reality as we know it.

What have you done?! WHAT HAVE YOU Dragging themselves through the negro sang the sun in flight and lies the port; the vessel p…… anxome fo….


TGGP 10.24.10 at 1:01 am

I respond to sg that Killers is clearly an Iron Maiden album, and the Bruce Dickinson incarnation is only Iron Maiden by virtue of being the closest continuer. But if Steve had gone with Paul there would be an ambiguity as to whether the real Iron Maiden featured those two, the rest with Bruce, the Ship of Theseus or the Vienna Circle.


cleek 10.25.10 at 2:29 pm

Now try B&S vs. Bryter Layter-era Nick Drake (Hazey Jane II, for example).

you might never be able to tell which is which.

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