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The Interpretation of Dreams

The short burst of song writing activity in 1997 added five completed tracks to the Sisters' live repertoire, and left several promising ideas in the ur-Gestalt phase (one of which later emerged as Crash and Burn). With the increasing coherence and confidence of the Sisters as a live unit, time, ever the most perceptive of Sisters critics, has matured these tracks into a significant body of work. The last song to be premiered on the Event Horizon tour, Will I Dream?, initially seemed the slightest, being musically over-reliant on a few Varjak power chords and lyrically atypically monosyllabic. Eldritch's assertion that "we think it's rather good" was dismissed (by me) far too casually.

Lyrically, Will I Dream? belies its simplicity of language by presenting a silver screen on which abstract images, literally and metaphorically, appear for a quantum moment and then disappear. The images are sensory: colour, feel and sound are present. And although there are characters in the sense of a narrator: "I", and an object: "you", beneath the barest rudiments of sensory experience there is no thought, no reason, no recorded events, no emotion; none of the characteristics that make us human. This seems remarkable, for Eldritch's lyrics have previously been criticised for a surfeit of complexity. It is almost as if he has gone structuralist in his approach.

Time exists in the dream. The three verses progress a shift in tense, from anticipation of the immediate future, through the present, to review of the near past. This is brilliantly achieved through repetition and subtle shifts in the lyric. The opening "Something will happen here" is modified to "is happening" and then "has happened". (It refers to Dylan's Ballad of a Thin Man: "Because something is happening here/But you don't know what it is/Do you, Mister Jones?") The tone is fearful: whatever happens in the second verse - and there are no clues as to what this might be - is distinctly unnerving; indeed unnerving enough for it still to be felt after the event in the third verse. The narrator, who gives a strong sense of being traumatised, also appears to be oblivious to the detail of the event. The lyric, briefly, approaches the "howling edge" of whatever happens; it's a maelstrom of noise and light, but we remain ignorant of what is going on. All he can do is wonder whether he will dream, when it's over. "When it's over" is the focal point of the narrative; the present being too dreadful to dwell on. However, it is important that the narrator is confident enough to contemplate future events, as this enables the listener to infer that the event isn't fatal (for the narrator at least).

Dreaming is significant here, reinforcing distance from the actual experience. If he does dream, one can be sure that it will be a Kafkaesque nightmare. We are reminded of Kafka's The Trial, Amis's Other People. Does Will I Dream represent an abrogation of responsibility, as in Other People? Or an overwhelming sense of guilt, as in The Trial? Perhaps neither - helplessness is the overriding tone. This represents a regression in Eldritch's lyrics from Vision Thing's victim-free approach, back to the more vulnerable narratives of First And Last And Always.

Given this shifting nightmare of abstraction and ethereality it is understandable that at the end of the song the narrator is entertaining doubts of the subject's existence. The attempt to "will belief in you" fails, possibly because of the experience gained as a result of whatever happens. The subtext is impenetrable if indeed there is one. That's a startling conclusion: no subtext in an Eldritch song?

Eldritch appears to have consciously discarded the layered, metaphorical style familiar from Floodland and Vision Thing. Will I Dream? is the most striking example of this volte face. Whether this is a reaction to the disappointing mass of critical insight into previous lyrics is currently unclear. If so, the combination in Will I Dream? of a lyric that allows no interpretation or insight together with a stunningly effective use of the simplest language is a subtle and mischievous modification, and one requiring explanation from the man himself.

Chris Sampson


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