Strictly speaking this is not a Will Oldham release—it’s produced by a British outfit known as Soulsavers, an “electronic-rock-gospel duo” according to Discogs. Oldham guest-sings on the A-side and Mark Lanegan on the B-side, “You Will Miss Me When I Burn,” which happens to be the opening song on Palace album Days In The Wake. Having Oldham singing on one side, and a cover of one of his songs on the other qualifies this as near enough to a “Will Oldham” release as far as I’m concerned.
Sunrise… originally written by Mark Lanegan, gets the pop song treatment through and through. It sounds very British, but nothing all that special, the mix of rock and electronic tones seem generic and dated to my ears. The lyrics are the usual nonsense. Something about waking up and being blinded by the sunrise? “Forgot to cover up my eyes,” Oldham sings. He speaks of beauty being wasted on him and two lines later he’s “with a woman too good to believe.” Somehow this all leads to him wanting to jump on the first plane out of here. Got that? Perhaps he’s in the middle of a revelation – I get that from the sunrise metaphor. All I know is that he wants to fly away suddenly; “Pull an airplane down with my hand / And take the first flight out that I can.” We have a tin-can type beat, background stabs of distortion, an ominous piano note being tapped repeatedly; when the chorus hits, the bass joins and the song feels fully formed. The pace is mid-tempo; it sounds great on the surface, but it’s a kind of electronic/rock crossover that belongs to the 90s. It’s kind of boring. If the lyrics told more of a story it might have caught my interest, but this just sounds too pop-lame for Oldham, and one wonders why he agreed to do it. When the song ends, you breathe a sigh of relief, and feel like apologizing for the man. It’s not unlikeable, just kind of pointless. Maybe it made more sense in the context of an album. Will sings in generic MOR croak-mode.
You Will Miss Me When I Burn… Lanegan’s croak however is more of the cigarette-burnt kind, rasping the opening tautology to this Days In The Wake song, “When you have no one / No one can hurt you.” There’s a violin and the main theme is taken up by piano. Lanegan’s voice is fraught, full of pain and sadness, and there’s no mistaking the authenticity of that voice. Between the voice, the maudlin piano and that opening lyric we get a strong sense that the narrator is hurting badly. “There are awful things” behind you, he warns us. Then there’s some strange stuff about only really existing when someone’s desiring you, and that’s what leads to the titular question, “Will you miss me when I burn?” But be warned, “There are wolves here abound / You will miss me / When I turn around.” Wolves, wolves, wolves. I think we’ve had enough of the wolf thing. I have to say, firstly, as the B-side this kicks ass over the A-side. Secondly, as a cover of an old Palace song, they do a pretty great job. Without fully understanding exactly what the lyrics are getting at—something vague about longing to be missed when you’re gone—you can sense the emotion of the song more keenly in the combination of tones and slowly descending chord changes. Female vocals twine in with Lanegan on the chorus. I like how Lanegan treats the lyric with such depth and sense of understanding. “When you have no one / No one can hurt you.” Wow, what kind of state of mind do you have to be in to arrive at a point where you’d write that line. I guess just after you’ve been dumped.
The B-side above, besides Days In The Wake, can also be heard in clean country interpretation on Bonnie’s Sings Greatest Palace Music from 2004. This was the fourth 7″ single featuring Oldham’s voice in 2009. None of them existed to promote any albums despite Oldham releasing a new album, Beware, as well as a live album, Funtown Comedown, plus a ten inch EP, Chijimi, all in the same year.