I pretty much completely detest the Iron & Wine version of “Such Great Heights.” I’m sure this will make me terribly unpopular with the indie snob crowd, but I don’t give a shit. I have tried and tried to let it grow on me. In fact, I just listened to it in its excruciating entirety a few minutes ago just in case I’ve changed my mind. I haven’t. It sucks.
Here’s why I love the original: it’s exuberant. It’s giddy. It’s full and lush and pretty and bright. It’s a fast flight in a sunny sky. The music is perfect, starting off quiet like a quickened heartbeat and growing until it soars. From a musician’s standpoint, it’s tightly-written, with a beautiful arc. I think arcs are especially important in pop songs that use electronic beats because without a good arc, it’s really easy for a song to become repetitive. It clocks in at 4:26, but it feels like those four and a half minutes fly by in a moment. I almost always listen to it twice in a row when I’m playing it in the car.
At 4:12, the Iron & Wine version actually comes in shorter than the Postal Service version, but I’d never have guessed it, because the Iron & Wine version feels like it’s ten minutes long. It’s ponderous. It’s boring. Sam Beam is undoubtedly a talented performer, but with only his voice and an acoustic guitar, he manages to make “Such Great Heights” sound as repetitive as a crappy 1985 Casio keyboard synth beat. His phrasing is weird and awkward in places. He takes some of the notes down the scale in places where they held steady in the original, and I think this stylistic choice in his singing stagnates the song where it should be moving forward. I think I get what he’s going for here – a dreamy sort of bliss, maybe – but I don’t think he hits it at all. There’s a very fine line between “dreamy bliss” and “boring the shit out of me,” and this version lands squarely on the wrong side of that line.
I’m kind of tired of hearing people go on and on about how much better the Iron & Wine version is, because I think that’s a load of crap. And I might have some hipster t-shirts and some dark-rimmed glasses, but I’m not about to go putting the I&W version of the song in the “listening” section of my (nonexistent) LiveJournal so that people see how hip and cool I am by listing it.
- It’s on the soundtrack for a movie that may have started small, but is now pretty widely seen/accepted/loved/owned, so it’s not like it’s this hidden gem anymore, if if was ever a gem to begin with.
- Also, it’s in a fucking M&Ms commercial, so I’m thinking that the indie hipster snob crowd ought to be eschewing it by now and writing in their LiveJournals about how Iron & Wine has sold out.
In the interest of fair and accurate reporting, I listened to both versions several times while writing this post, and I’d just like to close it by letting you know that I’ve upgraded “pretty much completely detest” to “absolutely fucking loathe” by now. I’m annoyed just thinking about it. Now you know.