The purpose of this series of posts is to share some comments about songs I wish I’d written. There are thousands of them.
This week’s entry: “Your Inarticulate Boyfriend,” a gem from Tsunami frontwoman Jenny Toomey’s second solo album.
“Your Inarticulate Boyfriend,” as performed by Jenny Toomey on “Tempting: Jenny Toomey Sings the Songs of Franklin Bruno”
What’s So Great About “Your Inarticulate Boyfriend”?
I like this song’s simple, memorable melody. But what really makes it stick is its hilarious lyrics, infused with a degree of cutting snark that all too rarely penetrates the realm of pop music. Yeah, we get plenty of sarcasm and bitterness in pop and rock songs, but this is qualitatively different. It’s less personally aggrieved. It’s more in line with the kind of wit you’d associate with the best of Tin Pan Alley tunesmiths, or perhaps the Magnetic Fields’ Stephen Merritt to cite a more contemporary reference point.
That snark begins from the first measures, filled with pseudo-mariachi horns. The first line then seals the deal, setting the stage perfectly for what will follow. Toomey’s unaffected, unemotional voice decares, “He can barely string two words together.” More details follow: “You hold up both ends of the conversation, and help him every time he’s at a loss.”
Then the lyrics try to look on the bright side — “He wouldn’t hurt you, he won’t desert you, but still…” — before slipping into resignation: “Who am I to begrudge you happiness?”
By the third verse, Toomey is wryly suggesting her friend take up ventroliquism, after offering more details about the boyfriend’s lack of communication skills (“He can barely form a compound sentence”). She keeps trying to find something positive to say, but in the end it all comes down to acknowledging that she can’t protect her friend from her own bad choices:
He doesn’t beat you, he doesn’t treat you as cruel
As those people that you dated back in school.
Who am I to deny you happiness without end
With your inarticulate boyfriend?
It’s a perfect — and even more withering — complement to Joe Jackson’s “Is She Really Going Out with Him.”
The viewpoint is different, of course — Toomey is presumably a concerned albeit bemused friend, not the aspiring lover wondering what his dream sees in some neanderthal that she doesn’t see in him.
(This song’s writer, Nothing Painted Blue’s Franklin Bruno, also cut a version that I haven’t heard, but I think the song would lose a bit of its punch coming from someone who could be a romantic rival to the titular boyfriend.)
That this criticism is coming from a friend makes the stream of insults all the more cutting, because they’re more objective. Toomey isn’t trying to woo the subject of the song, but is just pointing out that her friend could certainly do better.
But it’s hard to imagine a better “I can’t believe you’re dating THAT” song. That’s why every time I hear “Your Inarticulate Boyfriend,” I wish I’d written it.
Submit e-mail to get periodic updates about The Long Afternoon.