Plumtree: The Game

there is a time in every male’s life when he is a complete dork around females. For some poor souls it never ends. Maybe the same is true for females, I’ve never asked.

My personal stretch of hideous social awkwardness was only average in length, but delayed in onset. I remained aloof from this particular fray for most of high school, only to have my whole jury-rigged series of justifications and defences come crashing down on my head sometime near the end of grade 12 (at the time, Ontario still had a 13th grade, so I had a whole year to go). I continued running around like a chicken with my head cut off until the beginning of summer just after my second year at university. In between was three years of pure agony.

Although I certainly didn’t enjoy it at the time, and I’m glad to have moved past that stage of my life, in hindsight it had its moments. A big one for me was all that music out there that speaks directly to that sort of teenage angst, and, of course, that was the stage in my life when I really got into music.

One of the bands I fell hardest for, even if it would be a stretch to accuse them of angst, was Plumtree. I heard about them just as they were breaking up, and after sitting rapt through a bunch of their videos I mail ordered their three albums the next day. Once they finally came, I played them back-to-back-to-back incessantly, and listening to Mass Teen Fainting, Predicts The Future and This Day Won’t Last At All in one stretch is still guaranteed to cheer me up.

Now, I won’t deny that the fact of Plumtree’s composition (four young females) had some initial, surface appeal for me, but once I got those albums, I was limited to hearing and not seeing the band. And that’s when I fell in love. I still think those albums are lost classics, that they deserve every ounce of good press ever received by, say, Sloan (although the only similarities the two bands really have is home province and that and their instrumental setups). And a clutch of the songs contained therein rank for me with the greatest I’ve ever heard. If you take that subset and overlay it with the subset of Plumtree songs that spoke to me as a lonely, awkward (late) adolescent, one song overlaps: “The Game’s Over”.

Plumtree had two vocalists, and Amanda Braden sings “The Game’s Over”. It starts out with a typically busy guitar figure and the strong drumming that was the band’s trademark. It’s a song about something I found strange and wondrous at the time: A girl longing for a boy. More specifically, proclaiming her interest in a guy who is interested in someone else, but is far too much of a schmuck to do anything about it.

It’s what I’ve heard dubbed the Margaret Yang Syndrome; Yang, from Rushmore, was the cute, smart girl interested in Max Fischer, whose head was so far up his own ass he spends most of the movie ignoring her, before finally waking up. Well, as we all know, that doesn’t happen often in real life; the girl may be interested, but when you screw up (repeatedly) that tends to stop. Real people have only so much patience to lavish on difficult objects of affection. For awkward males of a certain strain, though, stories like the one told by Rushmore and “The Game’s Over” are favorites (after all, if you get approached, you don’t have to worry about rejection) even if you know they almost never come true.

But above and beyond all that (and of course I’d like to change the topic–writing about being such a maladroit is painful), “The Game’s Over” is just a great song. The verses burble along before the chorus, slower and still densely melodic:

I know that you are headstrong
I know that you don't want me now
Besides you wouldn't last long
You know I'll wait
Because how
Because how I like you

“You know I’ll wait”, of course, is the central romantic myth of the whole song. But something therein, and definitely in the rest of their oeuvre suggests that Braden and the rest of Plumtree know this anyway; they’re letting it go because it makes a good story, but they’re smarter than that. Listen to Braden croon “You always seem so relieved / You think it's so natural / But in fact it's so peculiar” during the middle eight, before the guitars crash back in (and as I’ve said in a previous top ten, I think Braden and Carla Gillis are desperately overlooked as good guitarists), and watch the band precisely unearth a psychological truth about adolescence, or at least high school. And they were still in it at the time.

The moment that really kills though, the moment I put on repeat repeatedly, the moment that really seals the deal and puts this in contention for my Favorite. Song. Of. All. Time. No. Seriously., is the end. It’s a standard trope: at the end of the song, you sing the chorus twice. Big deal. Yes, I love the chorus, with the steady drums and the guitar purring away and the wordless backing vocals. But when the band kicks into those last two choruses, the guitars play just slightly louder, and Lynette Gillis, in addition to the drum part she’s always played, starts wailing away at the cymbal.

It shouldn’t make a difference. It’s just a cymbal. But those steady splashes push the chorus from laid back to charging, and the rest of the band similarly takes the bit in their teeth and goes for it. If the rest of the song is good guitar pop, this is where Plumtree transcends into greatness, the one moment they can really make you believe in the narrative. For that brief fifty seconds, all doubts vanish, replaced by perfect pop bliss and the hope that maybe, one day, you won’t be such a dweeb.

And then one day you look back at that period in your life and shake your head ruefully and chuckle a little, and “The Game’s Over” is still there, still perfect. You now fully realize, more than you could have before, how much smarter Braden is than the guy she’s singing to, how “Besides you wouldn't last long / You know I'll wait” is her waiting for that geeky “nice guy” in school to finally find his guts and grow up, because high school romances never last. And no matter how your understanding of the song, or of the band, evolves, those cymbal crashes still make you weak in the knees.

By: Ian Mathers
Published on: 2004-08-04
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